Dustin Parker – Horror and Subtle Metaphors
words > Debra Thimmesch

The following is a review of Dustin Parker’s latest work. You can view his gallery at his site.

In what he refers to as a “digital painting,” artist Dustin Parker grafts the pensive, wizened visage of Abraham Lincoln onto the face of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. The irony here is too obvious, however. In a gesture that surely pays tribute to Mary Shelley herself, Parker has challenged the viewer to think in more abstract terms about the deceptive nature of appearances and about embracing the iconic without question. Step-by-step process photos on Parker’s website show the development of the aforementioned work and emphasize the balance he strikes between the technical demands of the digital medium and the less structured, more spontaneous nature of the creative process.

Parker’s portraits of cultural icons such as Presidents Abraham Lincoln (crossed, of course, with Frankenstein’s monster), John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan were part of a body of work included in the October 30th Final Friday exhibition titled “Suicide Pie.” Also exhibiting was artist, Greg Turner, an apparent collaborator along with artist Katie Sykes in the creation of the show’s graphically gruesome poster and nonsensical title, both evidently intended at least in part to pay homage to the Halloween-Eve date of their opening at Tangent Lab (143 N. Rock island, Farm and Art Market Square, Rock Island Market Building, 3rd Floor).

Parker’s digital paintings owe much to the Pop portrait idiom and seemingly to the American horror film. While not included in the “Suicide Pie” show, one of the artist’s works, We Are the Monsters, featuring the Hollywood-generated cartoon-style Frankenstein nevertheless gets to the core of what seems to be one of his overall objectives. Beginning with the title itself the work announces quite forcefully the artist’s deliberate inversion of appearances in order to call into question cultural expectations of morality and virtue that are based solely on superficial considerations. Indeed, Parker injects a grim and ironic whimsy into works such as A Colorful Death in which a leering skull—perched on an otherwise, apparently living body—breathes in the fragrance of a bright, blood-red lily. The metaphorical implications are, perhaps, obvious here, yet his use of random scribble and graffiti elements prevents the piece from becoming trite in that the image as a whole appears to parody itself.

While Parker’s painted portraits (a selection of which may be viewed on his website) thrust the typically lone subject toward the surface of the picture in sometimes claustrophobic relation to the viewer, the digital portraits and images of iconic figures and animals incorporate a depth that recalls the complex collages and layering of simplified symbols so characteristic of Pop art. In said Pop spirit, Parker’s portrait of JFK features a deliberately obvious Jasper Johns-esque target over the bloodied, zombie-like face of the murdered President. In contrast, layers of orderly Benday dots compete with modeled surfaces on the body of Kennedy as depth duels endlessly with superficiality. In such works by Parker, the cult of celebrity takes center stage as the artist demonstrates how our shared cultural impulse and essentially unchecked power (in the Frankensteinian spirit) provoke us to erect our own monuments and create our own heroes and icons only to destroy them in turn.

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