Going Up: On John F. Parker’s “Hotel” at AVA Gallery
I have a thing for hotels, and it’s captured in Hotel (above), one of artist John F. Parker’s assemblage works currently on display at AVA Gallery.
When I travel, it intrigues me that my hotel holds the duality of being both home and not-home. By definition, if I am in a hotel I am somewhere far from my own, comfortable bed but especially if it’s a long stay, the hotel room becomes the safe, familiar place that welcomes me home from a day’s adventures.
Hotels with history—that is, old hotels of continuous operation over many years—are of a special breed. Though the storied hotel guest register is now electronic and therefore devoid of charm, I like knowing I am on record, that my name has joined thousands, maybe millions, of others—famous or not—who have called a particular hotel home for a night or more. To take in Parker’s Hotel is to be drawn into the register that anchors the entire piece, and to wonder, for example, about the story behind the stay of Miss Eleanor Somerby of Boston (third name down). Was she there alone? And doesn’t the pen—as much a period piece as the paper list of names—inspire you to reach for it, adjust your imaginary fedora or ease your train case onto the plush lobby carpet so you can free your hand to sign the register?
Parker has explained that in assembling his art, he mines flea markets and friends’ barns for just the right pieces, and he installs them in their found state. As he puts it: “I always honor original patinas and color as well as time-worn texture, right down to the aged slot head screw from another life. If someone thought one of my art pieces were over 100 years old, I’d be happy.” And so time and exposure has pitted the bell, but no matter. I am anticipating that it still rings smartly to summon a bellhop. If it doesn’t, my imagination will suffice to play its sound.
The pièce de résistance of Hotel, however, is the elevator button. Together with its companion components it proves that we are most definitely not at home. We are on an adventure that becomes more personalized as we soar out of the lobby. Is ours going to turn out to be a coveted corner room with views on each side? Will it have a fireplace? (For the real deal in this regard, along with a person skilled at laying a fire, check into the Lenox Hotel in Boston sometime.) Will the towels be snowy white and abundant? We don’t yet know. What we are certain of, however, is that we are “going up.”
Reader, I bought it. That red dot next to Hotel is mine, though you can enjoy it for the duration of the exhibition. As compelling as this piece is to me, there are numerous others to explore. Parker’s art is meticulously crafted, often whimsical, (see Rothko’s Couch, below) and always intelligent. Many contain small human figures going about the business of their days and their trades, and whether or not the components actually move, there is a kineticism about each piece that draws viewers in and holds them there. I have never seen a work by Parker that I merely glanced at and then walked by. Survey the room if you must but then relax and revisit each piece and give these works some concentrated attention.
“John F. Parker: New Work in Assemblage” is on view at AVA Gallery and Arts Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, along with exhibitions by Amy Morel and Matt Neckers, until August 20. (Neckers will be giving an artist’s talk on Saturday, August 6 at 4 p.m.) For more information, please click here. A fundraising exhibition, 10 by 10 = AVA, a collection of 10” by 10” paintings by various artists, can be seen now and will culminate in a party and auction at AVA on August 12.
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Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.