Posts Tagged ‘oil on canvas’

I am going to publish a story about each painting that means a lot to me. Self-Portrait in the Red Turban is probably number one in this category.

Self-Portrait in a Red Turban

Self-Portrait in the Red Turban

I always wanted to be an artist.  My grandmother gave me a book from which I taught myself to draw when I was five.  Then at the age of thirteen I enrolled in a four-year course of study at an Art School which held classes after the regular secondary school day ended.  There is a great system of art and music schools that still exists in Russia.  After the end of my regular school I would run to my second – art – school every day to study art history, painting, drawing, sculpture and composition.  I was unaware that in the rest of the world Abstract Expressionism was the mainstream. In my world the mainstream was Rembrandt, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, all the “Old Masters”.

I can say that I had a classical training in art.  The “Old Masters” were considered to be “gods of the past”, however, the present day “masters” had to create in the style of “social realism” to be approved by the ruling Communist Party. That was not too exciting. In addition, one day someone said to me that “there had never been any great women artists”.

At first, I tried to argue but I had no facts to prove the opposite.  During that time in Russia no one knew about Artemisia Gentileschi, Georgia O’Keefe, or Lee Miller.  In the meanwhile Linda Nochlin’s 1971 article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”was published in the United States.  It is ironic that the same words that empowered women artists in the United States made me give up my dream of becoming an artist in the USSR. As I observed that all “great artists” of both present and the past were men, especially those who chose to join the Communist Party, I also heard negative remarks about “women’s art” which was often considered unimportant and limited to flowers and such. That was very discouraging for me as a young person and the desire to become a professional artist was suppressed by the time to apply to college.

Drawing always remained my way to express my emotions and feelings.  I drew to express myself and it made my life more bearable.  But I gave up on the idea of becoming a “professional” artist because I did not want to be a mediocre artist.  Mediocrity as an artist seemed to be predetermined just by the fact that I was a female.  I became a “shadow artist”.

I learned the term “shadow artist” much later, while living in the US and reading Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.  “Shadow Artist”, according to Cameron, is a person whose “inner artist” or “artist within” was suppressed for a number of reasons. Such people do not believe they can be “real artists”.  They love art, try to be around artists, sometimes they become models, muses, or supporters of artists.  Sometimes they marry artists. Cameron did not go so far in her book as to state that being a “shadow artist” is much more typical for women than for men, but that seems to be the case.

When I moved to the US in 2001 my life changed. I was greatly encouraged and supported by my loving husband and started becoming a “professional artist”, getting my degree in art, coming out of a “shadow”. The more I learned about female artists the more interested I became in “women issues” in art. One of my favorite artists, Katherine Ace, once said that as a woman she should be careful about what she chooses to paint.  She said: “painting flowers is politically dangerous for a female artist, playing right into cultural stereotypes. It sets you up to be dismissed“.  But she painted flowers anyway, as well as other subjects.

Self-representation, like painting flowers, risks being stereotyped as “feminine.”  Many of my works are based on some form of self-representation.  Even if use models, I still often identify myself with the models, their life stories and feelings. I believe, that engaging with self-representation places me within the mainstream of contemporary female artists who took themselves as subjects.

In her study of female surrealist artists W. Chadwick characterized them with: “the affinity for the structures of fabulist narrative, and a tendency towards the phantasmic and oneiric.” Other qualities shared by female surrealist artists, according to Chadwick, include embrace of doubling, masking, and masquerade as defenses against fears of non-identity. Chadwick pointed out the following representational strategies that continue to resonate in the works of female surrealists:

  • Self as Other;
  • Self as Body;
  • Self as Masquerade or Absence.

Many women adopted practices of “self-othering” – identifying with moments prior to historical time and/or outside the civilized cultural spaces identified with patriarchy.  Chadwick sees these categories as broad frames “within which it is possible to enact dialogs between contemporary women artists and Surrealism.” You can see fabulist narrative, phantasmic and oneiric qualities in some of my work. One example is identifying myself with Van Eyck in Self-Portrait in the Red Turban.

I represent myself in this painting as “Other” and as a male.  This is my way of reflecting on my role as a woman artist in contemporary art world which still treats women artists differently than male.

The crows included in this work are connected with my childhood memories and experience with my mother’s pet crow. It combines my feelings of bitterness of rejection. Once at the age 4 while being rejected by a crow (see the full story in this post), and then again, at the age 14 being rejected by the Art World when I was told “there had never been great women artists.”  The images of the crows in this work symbolize great artists whom I admired and wanted to belong to their world but was not allowed. This work is a statement that I do belong to the Art World.  I state this by wearing Van Eyck’s famous red turban and the coat with crow’s feathers.  This connects me to the Art World as well as to the Crows’ World.

This painting is very important to me, so when it was sold after my MFA thesis show, I felt that I had to make another one. That is why there are two version of it:

2011   DSCN1479

and 2013:

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I just stumbled upon an interesting article about William Cummings. He expressed ideas similar to mine: Bill Cumming. 1960s.

“There is only art. Every single human being is born containing an artist, and this being invents art for itself at around the age of three when, without any teaching or coaching or indoctrination, it invents shape.”

He believed firmly that training in “so-called commercial art” is superior to university art schools because students develop skills that allow them to survive in the world, to understand how the art world operates, and to handle the financial end of working as an artist. “Fine art is a war,” he said. “I hate fine art with all its fuss and crap. Fine art students are brought up in a spirit of contempt for people. Of course I paint for the market. So did Rembrandt. So did Titian. It’s high time we quit compartmentalizing art, and leave graduating students thinking they need a grant to make a living.”

William Cumming My Dog

William Cumming My Dog

He taught his students, “You have a right to make money out of art. To make money out of art, you have to create art which someone wants to buy. It’s okay if your drawing is crude. That’s how nature meant it to be. The question is how do you turn crude into a marketable commodity.”

This is something that I would say to my students too. I wanted to share this with you. See the entire article at: http://www.historylink.org

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I was going to publish more stories about my paintings and then a friend asked “Why the crow?” So I will start from this one.

In the Room With Memories

In the Room With Memories. Oil and collage on canvas. 48×36.

The crow in the painting “In a Room With Memories”  is a memory from my childhood.  My mother had a pet crow.  The crow just came into the open window one day and stayed to live with us. My mother named her “Vichka” (short for Viktoria). She loved my mother and hated me, probably out of jealousy,  and tried to bite me if I came too close.  I was only 4 years old, I was scared, but fascinated with the crow and was trying to gain her trust.  In doing so, I learned to speak like a crow, but that just seemed to annoy her more.  In this painting I am finally becoming friends with the crow and making peace with my childhood memories.

The image of the crow is also appearing in “Self-Portrait in the Red Turban”. I thought about how the feeling of me being rejected by the crow in my childhood is similar to the feeling of being rejected by the art world. I felt rejected when I heard from someone at about the age 14: “There had never been great women artists.”  At first I tried to argue but I had no facts to prove the opposite.  During the 1970s in the Soviet Union no one knew about Artemisia Gentileschi,  Georgia O’Keefe, or Lee Miller.  It was obvious that all “great artists” of both present and the past were men, especially those who chose to join the Communist Party.  I heard negative remarks about “women’s art” which was often considered unimportant and limited to flowers and such.  At the same time in the United States Linda Nochlin’s 1971 article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” was published.  It is ironic that the same words that empowered women artists in the United States made me give up my dream of becoming an artist in the USSR.

Self-Portrait in a Red Turban

Self-Portrait in a Red Turban. Oil on canvas and paper. Artist-made frame. 

The image of the crows in this work represents great artists whom I admired and wanted to belong but was rejected.  Just like being rejected by the crow in my childhood with whom I wanted to be friends.  There is a statement in this work that I do belong to the art world.  I state this by representing myself in Van Eyck’s famous red turban and by painting crow feathers on my coat.  This connects me to the art world as well as to the crows’ world.




One of the crows. Oil on gessoed watercolor paper



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OK! While I really should be in my studio, painting, I will spend a little more time in a virtual world, boasting about myself. Actually, about having a great friend, a poet, Tom Kirby-Smith who wrote a great poem about my art for my book:

“ . . . magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn”

Alla Parsons’ paintings speak to me
As in the song, “Do you see what I see?”Window
Her gaze transfigures all that she beholds—
Clouds, faces, trees—the sunlight that enfolds
Those creeping wavelets, distant church’s spire—
Bare-breasted angels on bright wings aspire–
A croissant on a plate, a pot of tea,
Two smiling women—suffused with mystery—
As Jane Ann wrote me, “haunting, mystical”–
All Alla! But not one bit egotistical.
“Come to the window; sweet is the night air,”
Said Matthew Arnold to his lover there
Above the Dover cliffs. Let Alla call us
(What happier invitation could befall us!)
To share the windows of her soul, and see
Within those magic frames the mystery
Transforming common things until they seem
“The glory and the freshness of a dream”
As yet another poet wrote. Open this book,
There’s nothing else to say. Just, simply, “Look!”

Tom Kirby-Smith


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My work “Self-Portrait in a Red Turban” was published in:

The Lexikon of Fantastic Artists (2nd german extended edition) ISBN: 9-783848263073

The official presentation of the book is Saturday, February 23, 2013 11:00 a.m. at the PhantastenMuseum Wien
Palais Palffy 1010 Vienna Josefsplatz 6

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After a long period of travel abroad we moved to Virginia just in time to meet the New 2012 Year…

March  – “Between Reality and Imagination”” – solo show at the Gourmet Frog

June – “7 Visions”” – group show with 6 other local artists who invited me to participate in a group critique on a monthly basis

July – “Figuratively Speaking” solo show of figurative works at the Artery Gallery in Greensboro, NC

August – work was accepted into the prestigious “Virginia Artists” juried show in Hampton, VA

September – Tunisia Art Festival – an artist residency with artists from 18 different countries in Monastir, Tunisia

November – awarded an Honorable mention at Danville Art League juried show

December – work was accepted and sold at the prestigious “Winter Show” in Green Hill Center, Greensboro, NC

Work accepted for publication in Vienna, Austria – Catalog of Fantastic Realism

Two solo shows scheduled: one for 2013 in South Boston, VA and another for 2014 at the Museum of Fine Art and History in Danville, VA

I guess it was a good year!

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Dear Friends!

Let’s paint in Cesenatico, Italy en plein air, by the beach, in historical squares, and near beautiful canals surveyed by Leonardo da Vinci. It is situated near Ravenna – home of the world’s most splendid mosaics.

Cost of the workshop is €300 which includes 10 hours of instruction, five days of painting, handouts, and a supply list. Airfare and hotel are not included. Payment is due by the first workshop meeting. A non-refundable deposit of €20 is due before April 10 to hold your spot.

We will be staying at the Hotel Beau Soleil. Their prices are very reasonable and include room with food and wine. You can visit the hotel’s website or send them an email for more information to info@hotelbeausoleil.it

We recommend booking early. Mention that you are coming with Michael and Alla Parsons. If our group is large enough you may qualify for a discount.

You may fly into either Bologna or Forlì Airport, which is very close to Cesenatico. The Hotel can provide information on airport transportation.

Space is limited so please contact me to reserve your spot in what is going to be an incredible time in Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast.

Please, like my Facebook Page and visit my website at www.allaparsons.com

Beautiful Cesenatico city:

Cesenatico is located on the Adriatic coast in Emilia-Romagna – the gastronomic center of Italy. What could be better than great food, great art, and the beach! Contact me for more information.

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April 13 – April 28, 2012

 Alla Parsons Art Exhibition

Reception: April 21, 7-9PM

with the Artist Talk at 8 pm.

Between Reality and Imagination

at Gourmet Frog Art Gallery:  312 Main St., Danville, VA 24541


Kristina's World. Oil painting on canvas. 60x48. 2010.

      Alla Parsons is originally from Russia where she received her basic art training. In the United States she continued her art studies at the university level and earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Painting from Minnesota State University Moorhead and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Georgia Southern University. Her style can be described as Magic Realism – art in which some mystery or a secret seems to be hidden within the subject matter.  Juxtapositions of sharply rendered and detailed elements, both in the foreground and background, are used to develop an air of mystery or ambiguity.  Alla says: “My paintings are about the mystery of our everyday life”. She emphasizes the objects of everyday life in new and unfamiliar ways.  She explores her physical, psychological and spiritual self as well as memories, family history and Russian heritage through her work. One can see her being influenced by Symbolism, Surrealism and Russian Icons.  In her work you can also see reflections on growing up in Russia, studying the works of the Old Masters in the Hermitage, and in the largest museums in Europe.

 The Artists Reception is on April 21, from 7 to 9 pm
with the Artist Talk at 8 pm.

Visit artist’s website to see examples of her work:  http://www.allaparsons.com/

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kristina's world
Kristina’s World. 2009-2010. oil on canvas. 48″x60″

In the summer of 2009 I spent a week on the Ossabaw Island, It is one of the barrier islands in Southern Georgia with beautiful oak trees, wild donkeys and horses and rich history. I created a series of watercolors and sketches, made some pastel and ink drawings, and took a number of photos with the goal to create a larger image when I am back in my studio. I wanted to create a painting that would reflect powerful and peaceful Nature that I saw on the island as well as all the emotions and thoughts it provoked in me.

I purchased the largest canvas I had ever worked on – 48″x60″ to create an epic image of Ossabaw Island. It was a bit intimidating and at first I was just staring on a white surface. Then I began my work with the process that became quite usual for me – a dance in my studio with brushes in my hands, without a clear idea about what to put on the large canvas. It took a few days of dancing to cover the surface with random marks of paint. After a while I started seeing the image of a lonely woman sitting on the lonely beach of the island looking into the distance. This reminded me of the famous painting by Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World.

Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World. 1948. tempera on gessoed panel. 32″x47″

Coincidentally I had a classmate, a fellow MFA student, a talented artist, who was going through a romance in her life at that time. She was on the Ossabaw Island with our group, but her lover stayed on the mainland. She was missing him. Her name was Kristina. So, I decided that my painting will be about Kristina, a Woman Artist, and her love story. It was a little different story than one in the Wyeth’s painting. His Christina was a disabled, immobilized woman, she was longing for something, that she could not reach.

My Kristina is peaceful and content. She is confident as a woman and as an artist, and she is holding a brush in her hand. As my dancing progressed, additional figures emerged on the canvas. At Kristina’s feet is standing a nude man, ready to kneel, perhaps posing for her or proposing to her while presenting her with a flower. In the drips and smudges of paint I saw his figure and as he emerged, I painted his face looking at the photos of Andrew Wyeth. I posed for both figures: Kristina’s and Andrew’s, taking photographs of myself with the timer.

A peaceful, almost ideal scene is completed with the image of sunset and animals surrounding my figures. I observed and photographed all of these animals on the island: donkeys, armadillos, horses, wild pigs and alligators are all familiar creatures of the South Georgia coast and Ossabaw Island. The big pig in front of the painting was a big wild hog whose name was Paul Mitchell… He was conditioned to visit the house where we lived, and eat from the waste bucket. All the food leftovers were carefully collected and waited for his return.
The owner’s dog, who is also in the painting, was especially dear to me (on the left of the painting). He was almost an exact replica of my beloved dog from my childhood. The dog on Ossabaw Island liked me and followed me around. I believe it was a reincarnation of my childhood friend.

Anonymous photomontage. La Revolution Surrealiste, N15 (December 1929)

All figures in my painting have their eyes closed, even the donkeys. Why? The famous group portrait of the surrealist group – actually a photomontage of a photograph by Man Ray and a painting by Magritte might help to explain.

In this photograph all the members of the surrealist group have their eyes closed. It reflects on the philosophy of surrealism that things are not really what we see with our eyes. To see the real truth we have to turn to our dreams. The figures in my painting have their eyes closed because they are living in their dreams.

Then why the wild boar has opened eyes?

Pigs have often been used as a symbol of evil in paintings by symbolist artists. I wanted to use that symbolism in my painting and express the idea that evil never rests. My reason for doing this is similar to the reason used by Renaissance artists for placing a skull in a still life. Painters during the Renaissance often included skulls, a fly or other symbols of death in their still life paintings. This was intended to remind the viewer of the temporal nature of this world , about the fragility of life and human mortality. The figure of the pig in this painting is a transitional figure between the romanticized world and the Underworld – the world of Life and the world of Death.

After working for about a year on this painting and having all these thoughts running in my mind, I decided to add another panel to the painting that could create a vision of the Underworld. The idea did not come to me all at once. At the beginning, I had thought about incorporating the skull of a pig or some bones in a lower part of the composition of Kristina’s World, but there was not enough space.

Remnants of the Pigs. 2011. oil on canvas. 20″x48″

While walking on Ossabaw island I discovered an area where the ground was covered with partially skinned and boned remains of the pigs. There is a large number of wild pigs on the island and some hunting is allowed. I guess some hunters skinned their kills and left what they did not need leaving a gruesome site. I took photos of that scary scenes.

My initial idea had expanded as I worked on the Kristina’s World painting. While working on this piece, many unfortunate things happened in my life including the deaths of relatives and friends. I recorded these events on the back of the painting as if in a diary. I felt compelled to extend the piece by adding a separate panel under it. In doing this I was following the Renaissance tradition of juxtaposing images of life and death.

Remnants of the Pigs has a long and narrow landscape format, which was inspired by the Renaissance painting by Hans Holbein The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.

Hans Holbein. The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.1521, oil on wood,

Combining these two panels: Kristina’s World and Remnants of the Pigs creates a juxtaposition of the dualities of human life.

Finally, Kristina’s World is a reflection on the position of a female artist in a contemporary world. There is a reversal of traditional roles – artist and a model – in this painting. The woman, Kristina, becomes more important, dominant figure and she is represented clothed. In classical tradition showing a clothed man besides a nude woman was a way to portray a man as a more powerful and active figure, a creator, an artist. A classical example of that approach would be a famous painting by Manet The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe).


In the contrast with Manet, in my painting there is a figure of a man, kneeling, nude, presenting a flower to Kristina. His pose is subordinate; he is a secondary character, an object of our gaze in this painting. By doing so I am not trying to make fun of a male figure or make him look submissive or weak. My idea for this painting is a representation of a true Love. When people are in love they become vulnerable…

I am showing an intimate and romantic scene, with a sunset and the animals coming to adore the beauty of the moment. Love is glowing with warm colors as they come out of the man’s chest and brighten the world around him. There is a specific music I was listening while working on it – Mahler, Symphony #5, Part IV Adagietto. To me this music expresses the feeling of true love.

Kristina’s World is my reflection on life and death, beauty and ugliness and how we often see it in our lives side by side.


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