If paint hangs on a nail within twenty miles of Lake Eola, Parker Sketch is there. A prolific Orlando painter and curator of art shows, Sketch was recognized as a leading art advocate by The Orlando Weekly in 2012 and 2013. Favorite geek characters like Super Mario, Pac-Man, and the King of Halloween often find their way onto his canvases. At a recent Faith Arts Village Orlando exhibition, Sketch sat down for an interview with Florida Geek Scene.
Sketch earned his bachelor’s degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, his native city, in 1990, when he was a tall, skinny goth-punk in a black leather jacket. He became active in the Orlando arts scene in the early 2000s, and since then he has built a following, becoming a well-known figure at cultural events. Sketch creates a range of works, but a significant portion of his paintings include pop culture icons like Donkey Kong or the Power Puff Girls. Asked how he got into painting these characters, he says, “Well, I grew up with them, and when I do that type of work I usually do it for fun. It’s the type of thing that brings a smile to people’s hearts. I mean, all art does not have to be conceptual, it doesn’t have to be abstract, it doesn’t have to tell a deep story. Some does, and some of my artwork does, but a good percentage…have pop culture icons, video game icons, cartoon things…”. Sketch believes that art does not always have to be heavy and challenging. “When I do these type of icons, I usually do lighthearted, happy, have fun, put it on your wall, enjoy life types of things.”
His favorite characters by far are the menagerie from Tim Burton’s film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. “It’s one of my favorite films, I enjoyed the film a lot. It speaks to me.” Sketch cites his long interest in the goth-punk aesthetic as a reason for his enduring fascination with the famous classic. “Jack Skellington is probably the single most painted pop culture icon I’ve got, I’ve probably done a good ten or fifteen different Jack Skellington paintings.” One can also find Lock, Shock, Barrel, and Sally in his work.
Another theme Sketch investigates in his painting is video games and their characters. Parker’s work looks back on the video games he knew as a kid, before, as he puts it, “all the controllers got crazy”.
“I grew up with Pac-Man, and Miss Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders, and Missile Command, with the old Atari system, with Colecovision and Intellivision and all that old stuff. And there was a simplicity to it that allowed, for me at least, an abandonment, sort of an escape, without having to worry about the best combo to get the most points, or having to press the exact third trigger on the right hand side…”
In creating his works, Sketch uses “acrylic paints, house paints, and spray paints – anything plastic that makes colors.” Why acrylics, instead of watercolors or oils? “Well, acrylics, if you use them well, they are just as bright, just as vibrant as oils. Some people like oils because they’re purists, and they feel that they can get better colors, but really, it’s all a matter of handling. Myself, I like acrylics because they dry fast, they’re easy to clean up, they’re very immediate. They reflect my need, my lifestyle; I’m very immediate, I want things done now, and I don’t have the patience to wait for layers to dry of oils that might take weeks.” He also sometimes affixes found objects, like hammers, paint cans, or books to his canvases.
And what is the meaning of art, Mr. Sketch? “Art doesn’t have a meaning…art is a communication form, I truly, truly believe that. I get really annoyed at artists who say that they are doing art for themselves, they don’t care what the audience thinks. If you don’t care what the audience thinks, if they’re not interested in what the audience thinks, I am curious as to why they’re showing it to me, don’t bother showing it to me. Art is a communication form. I’m taking this blue, or this yellow or this green, this Pac-man icon, these abstract colors, I’m taking them, putting them together, putting them in front of the viewer. And it’s about the communication with the viewer. If I didn’t care what the viewer thought, there’s no point in me showing it to you. And in fact, I personally refer to artists that talk like that…as masturbators.” If you aren’t touching your audience, you’re failing to make art. He concludes by saying,
“For me, the meaning of art is communicating on that level.”
He earned his degree in art twenty-four years ago. He is now forty-five years old. Asked to look back on how his perspective has changed over the length of his career, he says that when he chose art, instead of doctoring or lawyering, “I really chose passion, I had a personal passion for doing it.” But, “Then, when I started getting interested in art, when I started doing it, I was doing it very thoughtlessly and very selfishly, and very immediate gratification. Now I’m very active in the arts scene, and I feel that it’s extremely important for our culture to have art around, it’s very important for artists to help each other show art, make art accessible to people. So I’m a huge advocate now for promoting new artists…I’m extremely passionate about giving a hand up”.
His long experience also gives him a realistic view. Not everybody can sell giant steel rabbits for millions a throw, so Sketch also has a day job with Disney. While some artists think one should commit totally to art, Sketch says pragmatically, “I would not want to wager my mortgage with that.” One thing you can be certain of when you meet a painter still going strong after so many years in the field – he’s a survivor.
You can see more about Parker Sketch at his Facebook page.