There’s a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe hanging on one wall of the Grand Bohemian Gallery in St. Augustine, but it’s not like any other portrait you’ve likely seen.
The “canvas” is a collage of pages torn from a book of Poe’s writings and arranged to appear as though they are swirling out of the tome, which projects from the bottom of the piece.
But pages are not all that have departed the book. Black feathers fluttering about the piece suggest that the raven in Poe’s eponymous poem has burst from the text and taken flight, perhaps to alight upon a bust of Pallas somewhere.
This 30-by-40-inch piece, named “Poe,” is but one of the eye-catching works by Tampa-based artist Chase Parker on exhibit at the gallery.
There are three sculptures depicting women’s heads and torsos made entirely of acrylic butterflies. On the fronts, these brightly colored butterflies conform smoothly to each nuance of the sculpture, but on the backs, they flutter away en masse.
Another piece looks different depending upon the angle from which it is being viewed. Named “Dali,” it is a portrait of Salvador Dali when viewed from the left side. But as one moves to the right, the image transitions into a painting of one of Dali’s works.
“That’s definitely an attention-grabber,” said Parker. “I love watching the reactions when people see the change.”
This effect is accomplished by essentially painting slices of each image on opposing sides of the long, triangular pieces of wood that make up the work’s surface. Creating “Dali” required a lot of mathematical computations because all the pieces must fall into place when viewed from extreme perspectives.
Parker is unafraid to try new things, such as what he calls “the worst idea I probably ever had” — the creation of a woman out of nothing but 9mm bullet shells. Hanging it, he made a discovery.
“It turns out bullet shells weigh a whole lot more than I had calculated,” he said, laughing. “This thing was probably 120 pounds!”
Asked where he gets his ideas, Parker said it was just how his brain worked.
“It’s always been that way,” he explained. “Even as a child. For instance, my mom bought the first Dell computer when it was coming out on the market. Well, I decided to break the thing down to see if I could put it back together again. And I could not.”
This is an early manifestation of Parker’s philosophy.
“The recipe for any artist is experimentation and exploitation,” he said. “You experiment, experiment, experiment until you get it right. Then, you exploit it.”
Surprisingly, Parker hasn’t had an art class since he was in the fourth grade. But he had always turned to sketching to deal with life’s stresses.
When he was 5, he lost his younger brother. He was then placed in foster care for a while.
“The only good memories I have as a child were when I would finish a drawing and seeing the people’s reaction to it,” he said.
Adulthood brought more stresses, but he wanted to maintain some normalcy for his daughter, so he built her a craft room. But slowly, as Parker sought solace in his art, that room became a studio with a five-foot printer, easel, paint and more.
The tools of his art began to take over the house.
“We had three CNC [computer numerical control] machines cutting out butterflies running on our dining room table, almost 24/7,” he said.
He recently acquired a studio offsite, however, and now he’s got his home back.
As he developed his art, he hadn’t intended to post pictures of it online, but someone he knew did that for him three years ago and the reaction was quick. He was hired to do a commission.
And he experienced that same joy he’d remembered when, as a child, he was praised for his art.
Then, last year, entrepreneur Richard C. Kessler of The Kessler Collection issued an open call to emerging artists nationwide, a search for The Next Original. More than 1,800 artists responded.
Parker was one of nine finalists selected to display his work in Times Square and at several Grand Bohemian Galleries, including the one in St. Augustine.
“I am so grateful for the Grand Bohemian,” Parker said. “They have been absolutely amazing.”
Anyone wanting to see Parker’s work can visit the gallery at 49 King St. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. To see some of Parker’s other work, go to artcparker.com.
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