Ray Allen Parker grew up in rural Egypt, Arkansas. He earned a B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Arkansas, where he took his first painting class. Following a three-decade career in retail communications and advertising, he returned to his lifelong interest in portrait and figure painting at the age of 60. He notes, “It’s never too late to become the person you always wanted to be when you grow up.” Pursuing his painting degree through the University of Arkansas, Parker has emerged as one of the most important figure painters in Arkansas today.
The figures in this exhibition are friends, family, and waitstaff at local cafes depicted as icons or altarpieces. Parker’s paintings reference the “naturalistic monumentality” found in works by Velasquez in the Prado. Parker composes the images by first making 300-500 photographic studies of the individuals he is depicting, which he deploys in creating a single, large scale image that captures the direct gaze of the subject. He then combines that monumentality with the style of Renaissance masters who made saints appear like human beings. Parker reverses the approach, stating that, “I try to make my friends and neighbors appear like saints. They, of course, don’t overtly see themselves as full of grace, dignity, and rebirth of self I try to depict. They’re probably a little embarrassed by this depiction of themselves.”