In his studio, Jeff Parrott has paint in pill bottles. For him, painting is therapeutic, a journey into his mind, an addiction. His imagery is frenetic and crowded. An intensely prolific psychedelic artist, he literally has rooms full of paintings in his home.
Parrott is still making final decisions on which pieces will be included for his show opening this weekend at an enormous space in the MAC. The exhibit’s title is epic: The Universe Is a Room We All Live In and I Am a Modern Shaman and We Are All Aliens. The name may also be the best quick description of the art itself.
“I’ve had some close encounters,” Parrott says, and chuckles.
The large paintings don’t have names — at least not yet — and titles are subject to change anyway. Aliens and other unknown organisms made the trip from Parrott’s mind to the linen canvases. Some look like heads, melting or mutating, lined up and stacked like a carnival ball-toss game.
Paintings of what appears to be a human have been burned or sliced in two and sometimes filled with bubble wrap insides. Puppet masters, magic mushrooms and even playful references to the illuminati are sprinkled throughout the work.
Much like the imagery that seems to be transforming, the work itself is in a constant state of transfiguration during the creative process. It is not unusual for Parrott to dislike a painting, cover it with newspaper, and paint over it.
These uneven surfaces add depth to the imagery by almost giving it another dimension. Intestines, faces and tentacles crawling out of minds bulge from the canvas in different shapes and sizes. In addition to using collage techniques, these mixed media paintings also involve a great deal of drawing with markers.
“My process is a flow,” Parrott says. “I just let it evolve and develop.” To get into a trance state, he uses stream of consciousness techniques and listens to progressive psychedelic trance music. He refers to his work as “psyexpression,” an expression of the inner workings of his mind and an exploration of internal psychic phenomena.
“I’m influenced by the process of working,” Parrott says. “I’m trying to tap into a certain consciousness and bring out something hidden.” He considers his art therapeutic and feels best in the moment, working.
After painting tucked away in an isolated studio for years, Parrott built a new workshop behind his house. More or less working outside, he listens to the environment and looks at the sky as he paints snapshots from a dimension of reality in his mind.
The work has somewhat of a sloppy aesthetic and the imagery is shocking at first glance. But these pieces are surprisingly comparable to surrealist and abstract expressionist painting. Parrott clearly has a sophisticated understanding of modern art, but he’s fused it with horrific psychedelic imagery.
Just a few of these large works would demand your full attention, but there will be many more than that on display for this exhibit. Pink and red are the most dominant colors here, adding a sense of anatomy that make these psychologically jarring images all the more intense.
On opening night, Parrott will provide a soundtrack to the exhibition by performing psychedelic noise music in the gallery. In the studio, he regularly listens to electronic psychedelic music from Europe. He will attempt to recapture these sounds live in order to give viewers a sense of the environment his art comes from.
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Parrott has figured out how to paint startling images from the depths of his mind, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can identify the creatures in his paintings. He recognizes what looks like a Muppet as his cat and monkeys that hint at evolution. But what looks like a roulette wheel he describes as, “Maybe an eyeball.”
The landscapes are usually abstract or not identifiable as earth. A golf ball protrudes out of one painting and trees show up in a few others. But they are completely out of place with everything else on the canvas, as foreign here as they would be on the moon.
“It’s unexplainable,” Parrott says, of the imagery. “Might as well put it in the art and be inspired by it.” Some of the work is really dark, perhaps suggesting possession by supernatural aliens or terrifying organisms. But some are more childlike, even if they seem to convey a child’s response to seeing an alien.
The Universe Is a Room We All Live in and I Am a Modern Shaman and We Are All Aliens opens at 7 p.m. Saturday, February 6, and runs through February 20 at The MAC, 1601 South Ervay St., the-mac.org.