Sean Parrish- Rialto Gallery exhibiting artist

I am a self-taught artist, but I think sometimes that can be a misleading term. I think all artists, whether they attended formal art programs or not, still develop their skills, knowledge and inspiration within the context of supportive communities. These can be formal classes or informal networks of friends, or even online communities with strangers where people discuss and share information about their creative work.


I began painting late, around 20 years old when I met a very talented figurative painter in St. Petersburg named Jason Hooke. I lived in an apartment next door and we used to spend hours in his studio talking about art. He introduced me to works by Rauschenberg, Egon Schille, and several of the Dutch old masters. I spent a lot of time then copying old master portraits and researching their studio materials. I thought seriously about studying art restoration.


Sadly, he passed away in 2000. Since then I have drawn on the wisdom and insights of numerous artist friends and co-exhibitors, particularly on the outdoor festival circuit around Florida. It is truly an egalitarian tribe out there and I have enjoyed the camaraderie of artists like Tony Eitharong and Daphne Covington at shows good and bad! My history mentors Dr. Giovanna Benadusi and Dr. John Martin also introduced to me to ideas and topics that I never would have discovered on my own. They have broadened my perspective on the world like no others. I also work part time at the Hispanic Outreach Center of Clearwater as a children’s art instructor and adult English teacher. The Center services Clearwater’s immigrant community and I consider the colleagues and clients I work with like a second family. Working with children to develop their art has been one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life. Kids draw and paint with a confidence that I love and always hope to emulate.


When I went away to grad school to study history, I continued focusing on workshop culture during the Italian late-Renaissance. I focused on communities of learners interested in natural history and experimental practices. These included artists, pharmacists, doctors, botanists, and printers. Oddly enough, the experience studying Renaissance naturalism opened my eyes to abstraction and helped break down the somewhat artificial boundaries we often employ to separate “realism” and “abstraction”. Both begin with experience, cannot escape their status as subjective inventions, and really are the result of countless conversations, encounters and exchanges. Since 2013 I have focused almost exclusively on abstraction and continue to find enormous pleasure in it.

I have always been too curious for my own good. As a child I wandered everywhere and drove my mother insane trying to keep an eye on me. In high school, I worked after school at a Winn Dixie and over three years saved money to backpack across Europe when I was 19. I had no itinerary and went from Amsterdam, through Germany and Italy and on to Budapest. It was an experience of a lifetime and shaped so many of my later interests. There is a popular quote floating around that “painting is like traveling without ever leaving your home.” I don’t know who said it but it seems accurate to me. I think many artists are people who want to see what will happen next if they add a little bit of this, or what the view might look like around the next bend if they keep walking another mile. New experiences are like food that renew one’s sense of wonder in a world that arrays plenty of barriers to keep it in check!


The first painting I remember seeing that really inspired me to paint was Robert Rauschenberg’s “Buffalo II”. I am still an enormous Rauschenberg fan for the ways his work seem to collapse the extreme subjectivism of the abstract expressionists and his use of documentary images evoking broader historical narratives. I suppose nowadays Rauschenberg has become an institution of his own, but his commitment to playful experimentation is something I always loved. Another is California abstract painter, Ed Moses, who recently passed away. His large canvases always knock me over for their vital energy and he was never afraid to radically change styles and explore new places. My favorite artist working today, however, is Tracey Adams. Her paintings are beautifully understated and lyrical expressions. Really admire her work.

I consider myself an abstract painter but would not really go so far as a “non-objective” abstract painter. My direct experiences with the natural world are always present in my works. I think many of my works have an aquatic or coastal vibe that reflect where I live on Florida’s Gulf Coast. I respond strongly to my habitats and think my work would look very very different if I lived in a large concrete metropolis. I am very happy when a viewer tells me that one of my pieces reminds them of a shoreline or sunset in their memories. I think a good painting is one that can encapsulate both the familiar and the strange in the same frame. I also feel that abstraction can evoke an intimacy with a place that photographic representations often cannot. I think, for example, of the many photos of Venice that I encountered for years before actually living there for a year in 2011-12 on a research fellowship. I still have not seen any photographs that capture the everyday sensibility of that magical place and so an abstract series drawing on my memories of the Venetian lagoon is something I definitely have in mind for the future.

2018 ocean

The story line for this show, I think, is “Natural Histories”. This is the name of a series I have been working on for some time, at least since I returned to live in Florida in 2015 after a near decade absence. Prior to that, I lived in NC, a brief period in Colorado, and nearly two years in Italy. Though I grew up here and spent many summer playing on its beaches, the Gulf Coast felt both familiar and alien to me in ways that I have tried to capture in my works. After some life experience (some good, some bad!) the unique ecology of this region held deeper meaning and mystery for me that I hope to channel in my abstract expressions. My works then, are about the power of place and the ways we seek various forms of renewal and connection through the landscapes we inhabit.


Finally, my mother, Lynn Parrish, and my fiance, Jessica Kuzin, are my two rocks and greatest supporters. When I decided in 2015 to step away from academia and pursue art full time they were fully supportive. Impossible to overstate their importance to me.


This exhibit will be on display at the Rialto Gallery from March-April, 2019, with gallery hours T-F 2-6pm along with a public reception March 22nd from 6-9pm.




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