Classical, Formal, Rigorous: the Collages of Eunice Parsons

Briana Miller


Link to Briana’s article on Pulse

Much contemporary art produced now is ironic and self consciously clever. Eunice Parson’s work is not. Her formally composed collages seem to push at their frames and mats, but they stay, like the deliberate movements of a modern dance piece, firmly in place, expressing exactly what they are meant to.

Eunice Parson is 100 years old this year. The survey of her work in “La Centenaire”, a beguiling selection of less than 20 pieces on view at the Roll-up Studio in Sellwood through March 26, spans the decade from 2005 – 2015. The show is just the first of several planned for 2016 that will celebrate this life-milestone in venues in and around Portland.

The origin story for Parson’s transition from painting and printmaking to collage has her mocking up compositions for silkscreen prints using collage and experiencing an ah-hah moment. Realizing the possibilities of the medium in and of itself, later confirmed by seeing the work of artist Anne Ryan, she began creating compositions with torn paper and cardboard in 1969 and never looked back.

Charmingly hung in the Roll-up Studio’s double-height space, a former industrial building, Parson’s work at first seems demure. But there is power in it. The brown-grey-tans of the cardboard she uses to build up the textured pieces remind of Braque. And then they’re shot through with strokes of red and coral, like the flourish of a dancer’s skirt, a startling and joyful punctuation of color under a more serious idea. Words and sentence fragments in a variety of languages — French, Italian, and Russian among them — focus many of the works, and impatient, bold arcs of black spray paint on cardboard, another repeated element, lend an edgy, urban feel.

These works would be at home in 1920s Paris, where modernist artists, classically trained, were pushing the boundaries of what art could be. Indeed, the elegant script of Parson’s own signature looks as if it has been borrowed from a sheet of hotel stationery from circa that time and incorporated as another bit of found text into each piece. But Parsons is very much an artist still in full production and discovery mode. One of the strongest works in the show, a spare exercise in grey featuring a single off-center business-sized envelope framed by a firm line incised into the cardboard it’s mounted on, is entitled “The most difficult thing I’ve ever done”. It’s dated 2011.

Eunice Parsons has been working in collage for nearly 50 years, roughly half her life. She has achieved a fluency in the medium that means she doesn’t have to be clever or coy. Her work very much stands on its own.