Painter and professor Tim Parsley lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana and teaches at the University of Saint Francis. In his painting, collage, and sculpture work he is inspired by American History.
What is your artistic process?
My work primarily consists of painting, drawing, and collage. Collage has been a newer medium that came in sideways. Previously I had focused on painting and drawing, but as my work progressed and the use of appropriated imagery became more prevalent, my paintings and drawings developed a collage aesthetic. So I started making collage in the traditional sense of cutting and pasting pieces of paper. Now I find that collage has become very similar to drawing for me; both are the spaces where I feel freest to think things out and to take risks. Painting is more stressful for me and generally involves a lot more planning. Perhaps because of painting’s rich history and the involvement each piece demands, I feel the pressure to get it right every time.
What was it that made you decide to pursue art?
I spent thirteen years in a good profession that increasingly didn’t seem to fit. Simultaneously, I would still have a lot of interest in going to museums or to galleries and found that I still had this submerged interest that was trying to come back out. I eventually got out some old acrylics and bought some canvases and just started making really bad late night paintings. It had been about ten years since I had even drawn in a sketchbook and it became obvious that that’s where I found energy. When I decided to pursue a career as an artist, it was because of a depletion of purpose in my previous profession, and I needed to honor who I was supposed to be. My wife and I had three kids at the time, so the stakes were high. However, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t pursue making art. I’ve never regretted the decision.
Can you tell us about your American History theme?
American History has become my muse. At the core of it, I am very interested in the idea of how America was constructed and how there was a conflicted mix of hopeful progress and destructive ambition simultaneously.
What do you find alluring about 18th century and 19th century American leaders and intellectuals?
I’ve thought about that for a while, actually, and I started to play with some ideas in the 20th century, but it doesn’t work as well for me. I think it is because around that time America became more self-aware and self-critical. I’m not opposed to criticism, but it often feels too quick. Too easy. Up until about the civil war, there seemed to be a general consensus, at least regarding the validity of American progress, even if there were strong differences as to the direction of that progress. There was also a strong underlying sense that “this is God’s will,” which fueled that progress and expansion. If I had been alive in that time, it’s likely I would have been swept up in the same kind of blind ambition. To only criticize it from the comfortable clarity of hindsight is too simple. I’m more interested in exploring America’s “anxious nostalgia,” which comes as much from our complicity as from our criticism of the past.
Is there a piece of advice you share with your students?
I don’t know if it is the most important thing, but a piece of advice I share is that their questions are often more important than the answers they are trying to find. If I sense that they are on autopilot or that they are looking for the right answer just to get it right, instead of giving them an answer, I might give them ten more questions. I feel that artists need to have an itch that they just can’t quite scratch. That’s what will keep them up and moving, pushing their art in the direction it needs to go. Finding a good set of questions that are almost unanswerable is what can keep someone moving forward creatively. Something that I hear myself frequently saying to students is, “If you find yourself frustrated and unsure in something you are working on, that can be a very good place to be as an artist.”
See more of Tim Parsley’s work at timparsley.com
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