Unexpected mediums

Artist John Parsons takes hot glue out of the tool shed and into the gallery

“Life II” by John Parsons.

“Life II” by John Parsons.

The New Medium Art Gallery is tucked incongruously among the modest, single-story office complexes that sit just a stone’s throw away from industrial Sparks, in the unglamorous shadow of the Reno Hilton. Unlike the downtown galleries, some of which take their quaintness or quirkiness just a tad too far in an effort to attract the average passer-by, New Medium has an understated, metropolitan feel. The owner, artist John Parsons, seems to know that his patrons will be interested in art, not sightseeing.

Actually, the gallery’s location might not be so ill-fitting after all. Parsons, who features many of his works in the gallery and keeps a studio in the back, works almost exclusively with glue, using a hot glue gun as brush and hot glue as paint. In this area of town, one might expect to see an office supply store—hell, even a glue factory—next door.

Parsons is one of a handful of artists in the United States who work predominately with glue, and the story behind his unique art is simple: He began working with the “new medium” seven years ago and simply liked what it could produce.

“Never grow up; just get more expensive toys, and instead of crayons, use glue sticks,” Parsons says, a statement which seems to encapsulate his philosophies on both life and art.

On a visceral level, the paintings are studies in color and abstract shape. Never shy with color (except for a forthcoming black-and-white series), Parsons uses reds, greens, blues, oranges and yellows as if they were going out of style. The glue, thick and gelatinous, allows each shade to take on a particularly voluptuous sheen. At first glance, the “curves and waving lines,” as Parsons calls them, merely let the vivid colors speak through them—they merely play host to the kaleidoscopic display.

A second reading, however, reveals profiles of the human face lodged in the varying shapes—sometime dozens of them. Ostensibly, “Multi-task World” is a jumble of brightly colored stripes and egg-shaped objects; just a bit of investigation, however, reveals a couple dozen facial profiles lurking in the piece.

Parsons says that this is one of his favorite works. Indeed, there is a lot to look at and, after noting the title, something to think about. In Parsons’ “Multi-task World” there are plenty of faces—presumably workers—who are but slight variations on each other; each worker all but blends in to the busy, chaotic environment that one supposes is the “workplace.”

While admiring the multi-faceted “Multi-task World,” I find the cleaner, simpler works more visually stunning. My favorite of these is “Life I,” a piece that consists of only two basic shapes—again profiles, although these are attached to bodies of sorts. The figures, one male and one female, are set horizontally against a glossy black background. The woman hovers above the man, almost but not quite touching him. In none of the works on display is negative space used so well; the color emerges sharp and bold against the black, and the figures, with their gentle, fluid lines, seem to float in space—they seem simultaneously to be coming together and drifting apart.

All in all, Parsons’ works have a plasticity and lightheartedness that make them easily accessible. Parsons, however, effortlessly balances seriousness in his art as well as fun, using a playful medium to cloak an esoteric message (just as his gallery is hidden in its quasi-industrial environs). Though perhaps not for the most traditional art connoisseur, Parsons’ works are sure to attract those curious to see where art will take us in the 21st century.