Surfing the Strip and the Spectra
R. Nelson Parrish has cooked up an intriguing project by taking photographs of the famed Strip from a moving car and turning them into faux abstractions
BY JOSEF WOODARD NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
What you see is not nearly all you get in the intriguing photographic work of R. Nelson Parrish, now on view via the Tennis Club of Santa Barbara’s ongoing art exhibition series. Knowing what you’re seeing, and how the images were made, adds a strong element of fuller comprehension, particularly with the mixed media artist’s “Sunset Strip Motion Series.”
For these, for which he mounted a camera on his car and snapped some thousand-plus images of the famous/infamous Sunset Strip, which he cruised from dawn to dusk, as they say, all for art’s sake. This is the centerpiece series of the show here he logically names “Light Color Motion,” along with a few scattered examples of his work as a sculptor, surfboard and guitar artist, and all-around post-“finish fetish” design specialist. Earthy post-psychedelia is his specialty, as an artist working in fiberglass and surf’s up-cultural garb.
But what we find in the blurred Sunset Strip photos, “With wavy bands and swaths of electric color, are optical treats in and of themselves, a case of the current trend of ultra-soft focus photography pressed into the service of abstraction seeking, color-centric seduction. But recognizing, the mashing mesh of Sunset Strip’s both grand and gutter-level legacy and the loftier ambitions of this work’s artistic mandate makes for a fascinating odd-coupling of underlying influences. Hedonism and aesthetic asceticism meet and do a little dance with – and around – each other.
There is surprising variety to be found in the highly selective sampling of images from the large pile of “field studies” the artist (and his car) produced. Number 521, for instance, is a more fluid and edgeless piece, conjuring up an unexpected waft of lyricism. Others, such as Numbers 585 and 534, have a more frazzled and nervous energy, with II sense of being plugged into some nocturnal, rock ‘n’ roll-flecked spirit.
Pure color, with scarcely a recognizable hint of the fabled boulevard he’s shooting, becomes content in these images, on some level. But once duly informed of the background; he can’t help but put a spin on things. And Parrish certainly isn’t one to satirize or moralize about Californian culture. The sum effect in this show is an expressive and fakiy non-judgmental attitude evocative of various things Californian: at the beach, on the roads, in the clubs, and in the art galleries.