Documenting Canada’s Vast and Varied Terrain: an Interview with Randolph Parker

Randolph Parker with a painting in progress. Images via the artist.

Randolph Parker with a painting in progress. Images via the artist.

When Canadian painter Randolph Parker was just six years old his mother entered one of his drawings into a competition. He won first place and his family had to drive an hour and a half through a snowstorm so he could collect his prize on television. As Parker entered the studio with its bright lights and massive cameras, he turned to his parents and exclaimed, "all this for a drawing!"

This experience sparked his lifelong interest in art and the understanding of its importance.

Parker's formal art education began at Mt. Allison University, New Brunswick; later he attended Banff Centre, Alberta and York University, Ontario. Parker himself spent some time teaching at the Ottawa School of Art where a student once asked, "How do you become a professional artist?" Assuming she was asking a general question, he began to outline the importance of building technical skills, learning how to analyze artwork, and creating a strong portfolio. The student raised her hand again and clarified that she was actually asking how he had become a professional artist.

"Until that moment I had never considered myself a professional artist. After years of painting, art education, teaching and exhibiting, somehow I had become a professional artist without actually realizing it. Art was simply my life and I pursued it with a passion," says Parker.

Now, a more than 35 year veteran on the Canadian art scene, Parker spends his days painting Canada's vast and varied landscape.

This experience is apparent in his artistic process. Methodical and thorough, once Parker has an image in mind he starts by creating thumbnail sketches. "This allows the mind to pre-process the composition, giving consideration to scale, the type and direction of light, time of season and various other ideas."

Then begin the layers and layers of paint. 

A sketch from the Island Series.  P 14, N 49º 12' 11.77", W 94º 29' 07.22", South Shore of Splitrock Island, 10 x 14 inches, 2018 by Randolph Parker.

A sketch from the Island Series.

P 14, N 49º 12' 11.77", W 94º 29' 07.22", South Shore of Splitrock Island, 10 x 14 inches, 2018 by Randolph Parker.

Base colours are applied first to set the mood and create the light of the scene followed by basic forms, one over the other, to create the structure of the image. Details are then layered until the painting is roughly 85% complete which signals the beginning of the refinement and analytical stage to see what the painting needs to be completed.

”Eventually the refinements become less and less until there is virtually one brushstroke needed to complete the work. Then and only then will the work be signed."  

Parker is currently working on a major series of paintings and sketches titled “Island Series.” This series is based on specific lands in the Lake of the Woods area of Northwestern Ontario. Throughout this project he will complete roughly 100 small sketches and between 50-100 paintings.

A completed painting from the Island Series.  IS 7, North 49º 40' 54.30" West 94º 31' 09.65", 22 x 48 inches, ArtMoi ID # 2D5-07U-639 by Randolph Parker

A completed painting from the Island Series.

IS 7, North 49º 40' 54.30" West 94º 31' 09.65", 22 x 48 inches, ArtMoi ID # 2D5-07U-639 by Randolph Parker

Parker says this is a unique undertaking in Canadian art.

Several Canadian artists such as Frank Johnston, Walter J Phillips and Frederick Verner have painted aspects of the lake in the past but, until Parker, no artist has committed to a body of work this size spanning various locations around the entire lake. Each work of art is site specific and titled by GPS coordinates, allowing people to visit the area digitally via Google maps or by finding the location on the lake for themselves.

Parker has spent time in the area regularly for 25 years, exploring with his friend and art dealer Bill Mayberry, “together, we have explored far reaches of the lake, with it’s 14,000 plus islands, and made some wonderful visual discoveries.”

Cessna, 18 x 36 inches, 2013, # 3827 by Randolph Parker

Cessna, 18 x 36 inches, 2013, # 3827 by Randolph Parker

From a young age, Parker has always been transfixed by the wonder of actually seeing, “just being able to see seemed incredible and the stunning complexities of our world only added to the feeling. Artwork naturally intrigued me because I did not understand the mystery of how three dimensional space could be created on a flat surface. It was a wonderful investigation just to figure this out.”

Early in his life, Parker’s inspiration came from learning how to paint and later it was the ideas behind great works that was motivational. Eventually, what inspired him the most, were those who had a unique vision no matter the style. ”I can remember many times standing in front of works from Rembrandt or Chagall to Kurelek and walking back and forth in front of a single piece for hours, intrigued by their sensitivity to the subtleties within a painting.”

Now his inspiration comes from seeing landscapes that have potential to be great works.

”There is a zone where spontaneity and control resides simultaneously and true creativity occurs. This is the desired realm where at times I am fortunate to reside.”  

You can learn more about Randolph Parker and see more of his artworks at randolphparker.com and Mayberry Fine Art.