Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

{enter gallery above}

Austin Parkhill’s paintings are gigantic. They are solitary moments of time. They are candid. They are photorealistic.

It was written that a negative contribution of the American frontier and its ideologies was the problem that “bigger” was being equated with “better”. Really, it was no wonder: what with all that wide-open land, the huge skies and the colossal, shining mountains and promise for an improved future. While we all know that “bigger” is not qualitatively akin to “better”, with Austin Parkhill’s work: Bigger is certainly better – certainly, it’s more profound.

A Colorado native now living in Boston, Parkhill’s works are humongous: sometimes 7 feet by 6 feet. Painting the kind of monstrous, breathtaking portraits that Parkhill does – at this scope: every pore, scar and zit are revealed. His work dwarfs your human size. His canvasses possess the kind of emotional momentum to magnify your own scars and humiliations; triumphs and losses. Standing in front of these kinds of canvases, I felt confused about smirking, grinning, or even chuckling. Things this big mean something else. Or do they?

His work hinges on the ethics of honesty in visual expression. Parkhill’s paintings begin as candid photographs. Snapshots. Real moments occupied by real people – 5 and a half or 6 foot people not primping or posing or in their best clothes and makeup. It’s the honesty of these sometimes-awkward moments, these real moments, that intrigues Parkhill.

How real can a painting get? Ask Parkhill’s girlfriend’s mother – she became the subject of one of his paintings. When she saw it – she wasn’t as fuzzy as you would think. It was too personal. Too real. She didn’t agree with her body’s lines – as Parkhill saw them to be.

But while his work is massive on the physical scale: there is a microscopic fantasy to it all that is best fleshed-out by the element of time.

Parkhill’s paintings can take him a hundred hours. Maybe even 150. With that much time spent looking at the same face(s), life sure must be bizarre. But no, he assured me: he’s not making eye contact with the photograph and painting as much as he is involved in small patches of the canvas. 8 inch squares. Small sections. Parts and pieces, not always the whole.

Austin Parkhill’s history is a bit atypical for most visual artists. For the bulk of his life he has been an athlete. He played hockey in the junior leagues out of high school. And you read it right: Parkhill isn’t a small kid. He’s a big boy. But don’t read it wrong: he isn’t some kind of dummy. On the converse, Parkhill is supremely articulate about his work, his process, his mediums – as well as other artist’s work. Our time together revealed one of the most eloquent, humble, knowledgeable and concerned artists that we have seen in the (p)ages of syntax.

Philosophically, Parkhill’s current body of work plays on the stodginess of the art world. But instead of playing into it, he retorts and creates a sense of humor. And you can see it, in the same way that you can see every pore of that pretty girl with the five foot face.

As for Parkhill’s future? Many would shrug. Say it’s bleak if portraiture is involved. Many would say Parkhill has found his legs in an antiquated form. Parkhill won’t completely disagree, citing the real possibility of painting the portraits of politicians, the wealthy – altogether stiff, staged people. But then, he will point toward the Smithsonian’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition – one he was a finalist in, in 2009 – where you will find progressive, provocative portraits. To this, Parkhill shrugs, ominously.

What’s left to do? Much. Many things. Maybe New York. He’s already represented by one of Denver’s best galleries: Plus. Maybe Miami? Whichever way, Parkhill knows that he will keep his eyes on 8” patches of canvas; and keep working. He wants to dive deeper into this current body of honesty. And honestly, he’s only getting better.

Moreover, Parkhill is committed. You can hear it in his voice. You can see it in his work. I assure you: One would have to possess a hockey man’s beating heart to be an Argonaut like this.

Keep your eyes on Parkhill’s mammoth work, here: www.austinparkhill.com