A Portrait of the Artist: Natalya B. Parris
Gaithersburg artist and educator, Natalya B. Parris, finds inspiration in the legacy of the masters and the natural environment
In one corner of the long gray formica table, one student is vigorously mixing tempera paint with an old watercolor paintbrush. A few feet away, another is meticulously gluing a piece of orange construction paper to a shoe box in preparation for the next layer of family photographs. Yet another is stamping out silhouettes of cats and apples with a shape cutter, deliberately and methodically setting them aside for later use.
A young boy listens as Natalya explains how Paul Klee paints abstract compositions of adjoining color by mindfully subdividing a blank page into geometric shapes. The students unanimously recognize Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel as their teacher diverts their attention to a celebrated representational artist.
These are Natalya B. Parris's Inspired By The Masters students, and they are no more than three to six years old. They don large button-down shirts as smocks, and roll up their sleeves when they set to work on their masterpieces. Natalya opens their eyes to the work of renowned artists, simlutaneously encouraging them to continue developing their oil pastel drawings, fresco paintings or memory boxes, as the case might be.
Parris, an artist and educator, lives and works in Gaithersburg. She has been teaching art classes for young artists at the Arts Barn since 2007.
When she is not teaching, tending to her family or meeting with other artists in the area, Parris devotes all of her energy to her paintings. There is more to her pieces than meets the eye, but she refuses to divulge her working process. But her lips are not sealed.
On the contrary—she encourages you to look closely and notice all the layers of paint that are visible to the naked eye, but only on very, very close inspection. She prods and quizzes until you begin to see for yourself how all the acrylic paint on the canvass creates a visual field of subtle color and depth variation.
Whether painting organic forms or strict geometric patterns, Parris uses meticulously overlayed and opaque swathes of color or perfect circles of acrylic to generate the perception of depth. In her recent painting, "The Bride," depicting a white waterlily against a deep, Prussian blue background, she even creates a relief-like underlay out of acrylic.
"It's not resin," Parris said. "Artists usually use resins to achieve this kind of effect. I use pure acrylic paint."
At a recent benefit event to raise money for Gaithersburg youth who cannot afford to attend summer camp, Parris gave an artist's run-down of her biography.
Born and raised in Moscow, she attended The Moscow State Construction University to become a civil engineer. With an understated sense of humor, she recalls her first day on a construction site. The construction manager was in utter disbelief at the sight of a "ballerina" on his rough and tumble turf. An avid storyteller who can string episodes from her past into a logical and colorful succession, Parris uses this motif to segueway into her career as an artist.
"When I moved to the US, I thought to myself: new place, new beginning! I always had a lot of creative energy, and my engineering background is not lost in my paintings."
In a group show titled "Under the Spell of Minerals and Gemstones" held at The National Institutes of Health in 2008, Parris displayed a series of acrylic paintings that blend swirls of pigments modelled after gemstone colors.
There is a chaotic precision to the interplay of shape and color on paper, and at first, the image appears to have been created digitally. On second glance, it becomes clear that layers of acrylic have dried on top of one another to create these carefully crafted explosions of seeping paint. The paintings in this series are evocative of a chemical process seen under an exacting magnifying lens.
Although technique is very important to Parris, the cultural relationships that her work references do not remain understated. In preparation for the NIH exhibition, Parris studied the significance of gemstones in forging social bonds in ancient and contemporary cultures. She learned that turquoise protects health and lapis lazuli conveys romantic love. Her artist's statement for this show, as do most of her anecdodes, focuses almost exclusively on these more tangible details about her work.
Her most recent body of work, inspired by the pond at Boehrer Park in Gaithersburg and Georgia O'Keefe, is on view at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn in the Invitational Gallery until November 14th.
She will also be donating three pieces to the November 24th art sale to benefit the Dolores Swoyer Scholarship Fund, which ensures that young kids in Gaithersburg can afford to go to summer camp. On October 23rd she worked on mask-making activities with young children at the Washingtonian Folk Festival.
Finally, her reach extends to Frederick, where she will be exhibiting three pieces at the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center as part of The Women's Caucus for Art of Greater Washington show, on display from November 6-27.
Over the past two years, Parris has shown her work throughout the United States and internationally. She has exhibited at the International Art Expo in Las Vegas, the Museum of the Americas in Doral, Florida, the International Artists exhibit in Malmö, Sweden, at Svenska Konstgalleriet, the International Artists In Florence exhibit at the FYR Gallery, Borgo Albizi 23 – Florence 50122, Italy, and Barcelona Award 2009 Mallorca, 284 - 08037 Barcelona, Spain. Most recently, she exhibited at the Latino Art Museum - poet, writer, and former editor of Arte y Cultura, Gustavo Alfonso Coletti, curated this show.
No matter where her art takes her, Parris always returns to her roots in Gaithersburg and brings something back to share with the community. Her award-winning painting "Daffodils for Mardi Gras," which was inspired by a trip to New Orleans unifies the cultural-symbolic motif of purple, green and gold beads with the natural endurance of the flower itself.
"Daffodils are very special flowers for me, because they brighten my garden, my life and my children's lives every spring. They are the only flowers that are not eaten by the herds of deer that visit my garden every day."
Parris's love of nature is evident in both her carefully studied and constructed floral motifs and her gemstone-inspired acrylic explosions. As a parent, educator and mature artist who has perfected a technique, she wants nothing more than to forge new community connections through her artwork and to open people's eyes to the creative potential of their surroundings.
All images accompanying this article are the property of the artist and have been copyrighted by the artist.