To say that Elaine Parks’ work is sensuous doesn’t quite hit the mark. To say that it’s landform-based doesn’t cover it, either. Are the works abstract or representational? Are they found objects? To all of these queries, the artist says yes. Her titles include words such as canyon, night sky, pillow and foam. Though reminiscent of recognizable patterns, the ceramic forms are their own thing.
Her current exhibit is Some Place/Somewhere in Fallon’s Oats Park Arts Center. She has lived in Tuscarora for almost a decade and now splits her time between that artistic community near Elko, with a population of 13 or so, and the city of Los Angeles. (Full disclosure: works by Parks have appeared in exhibitions curated by the author.) Her love of nature and walking has heavily informed her work, and the decomposing trash heaps left behind by generations of miners around the rural town have inspired a continually evolving body of quasi-naturalistic ceramic artwork.
Armed with a peaceful demeanor and a Master of Fine Arts degree, Parks prefers to stay away from the ‘signifiers’ that the academic artistic community likes to use as inside jokes. Her preference is to let go of acute references to anything in particular, but rather let the form of her ceramic sculpture come to life organically. She lets what she sees vaguely inspire her creations—or maybe it works vice-versa.
The artist talks about seeing rock formations and decaying foam pillows on walks through the sagebrush: “On these walks, I sometimes see stuff that looks just like my work. This makes me happy because the direction I’m going doesn’t feel so contrived. I feel like I’ve really captured it!”
She talks about the concept of life imitating art and how so many graduate programs instruct artists to have a clear plan beforehand for how the work will turn out. In contrast, she says, “I like to be surprised by it when it’s done … It’s more of a path of discovering. If I have it all worked out in my head, I’m not interested in making it.”
The artist’s development and evolution consistently carries through with nubs and patterning across the variously glazed surfaces. The protrusions are sometimes “outties” and sometimes the patterns are intrusions or “innies,” evoking features such as barnacles or goosebumps or Swiss cheese holes. Another evolving feature in her work is the exploration of color hues and textures across the softly curving surfaces. Colors are from blue, white or yellow to shades of black. Surfaces are cracked, velvety flecked, or scratchy dry.
There are four pieces in the exhibition that break from the consistency of the rest. One is a single pillow form framed in lit neon tubing. This was a collaboration with neon artist Jeff Johnson. Another anomaly was a curtain of punched-out cardboard pieces used to mask off letterforms when painting signage. These two pieces hurt the show’s earthy delicacy and feeling of quiet naturalism.
The two other pieces that stood apart were less jarring next to the rest. These were works constructed using mud wasp nests. Their addition made so much sense that I found myself wanting to see more natural elements like these examples of inspiration. An old weathered foam pillow might have been nice to see on display, as well, convincing us that nature doesn’t care who made it.