Sometimes, a person will see one of Ronald Parker’s paintings and tell him that it looks just like a photograph, probably meaning it as a compliment.
Parker, who lives in Qualicum Beach, paints realistic landscapes, and currently has an exhibit at TOSH (The Old School House Arts Centre, 122 Fern Rd. West, Qualicum Beach) until Sept. 1.
While you might imagine it is a compliment — telling someone who strives for realism that their work is as realistic as a photo — Parker said he’s trying to be more realistic than a photo.
“My desire is to have the viewer feel like they could walk into the painting,” he said. Thinking of the frames around his paintings as a window frames, he said he tries to make people feel like they can step into the scene. “The best compliment for me is if I do a seaside piece and someone says, ‘I can hear the waves.’ That, for me, is success.”
It could seem counterintuitive, then, that Parker said he doesn’t paint every leaf or branch or stone on the beach to achieve a realistic painting. Though he’s quite detail oriented, he’s moved on from his former exhaustive detail process in wildlife painting.
“I painted wildlife for 20 odd years,” said Parker. “With wildlife, you paint everything. You put in fur, feather, you have to be extremely accurate, because… you’ll want to make sure you have the right number of primary feathers in the wings of an eagle. So accuracy is extremely important.”
Parker even went so far as to study animal skins, at one point even having a Comox highway department provide him with dead birds for study.
But, from 2003 to 2013, Parker said he “abandoned all detail in my work and painted in a very stripped down, essentialist style.”
The focus was on shape, line, rhythm and colour, he said. Now, he adds some detail on top of that, tending towards a realistic style.
Asked how he creates realistic work without exhaustive detail, he said he’s not entirely sure. “I just do it,” he said. “An artist’s mind will interpret a scene. You’ll look at it and figure out the most important parts. As far as what I do, I compose the painting basically with shapes, colour, perspective, etc., and then I put the detail in.”
The goal is arriving at that image that makes people feel as if they are there. Getting to that takes plenty of work, including multiple visits in various seasons and weather to a location, taking lots of photos, and coming up with an idea of how to represent the scene (including what keep in the painting and what to exclude).
“But by the time I have the canvas and I put the drawing on the canvas, I know exactly what the outcome will be,” he said. “I start at the top left corner, and I finish at the bottom right corner, and it’s one coat… one pass of the painting.”
It’s a lot of preparation and design work to create something that looks natural, he said.
Parker’s exhibit at TOSH features new work of his from the past year or so, and focusing on coastal landscapes, many of which are of Qualicum Beach scenes. Parker moved to Qualicum Beach 15 months ago.
Parker’s art exhibit at TOSH will be on display until Sept. 1. For more on what’s happening at TOSH, go to www.theoldschoolhouse.org.