Following his year as the Frances Hodgkins Fellow in in 1975, John Shotton (J S) Parker worked as a fulltime artist and in 2002 was awarded the ONZM in recognition of his services to painting. He lived and worked in Marlborough until his death in August 2017, and his paintings reflect his engagement with his surroundings as well as with his own painting practice.
A close observer of his environment, Parker endeavoured to catch the subtleties of texture and the play of light with his layers of oil paint. At the same time his works clearly explore modernist tenets of the flat surface, painterly gesture, and colour field harmonies. The surfaces of Parker’s paintings suggest furrowed land and rippled water, and the play of light through the atmosphere, but they also perform as material objects. Layers of oil paint track the physical act of painting and there is a tangible sense of the medium’s viscosity and fluidity.
One of the earliest – and certainly the largest – painting in this exhibition is the 2004 work Plain Song: For the Painters at St Ives. Peter Simpson comments that Parker was “alert to the multiple connotations of words” and notes two allusions that specifically relate to the artist’s ongoing Plain Song series: the geographical plains of the Wairau Valley and Canterbury that Parker spent most of his life in and the subtle simplicity of medieval plainsong, in which a small number of elements are repeated and rearranged to create complex harmonies (1). Each of these references can be seen in St Ives, which is a meditative reflection on tonality and texture, and evokes the rich heat of summer rising off the land.