Eunice Parsons: Collages
“The principle of collage is the central principle of all art in the 20th century in all media,” according to the writer Donald Barthelme. Invented by the Cubists prior to World War I, commandeered by the Dadaists after the war, and adapted by later artists in a wide range of mixed media experiments, collage is an art of destroying one thing to create another, splicing excerpts from many discourses, and jumbling the formerly ordered into a new, often chaotic unity. In these ways, collage does seem to reflect the splintery static of contemporary life. For the Portland artist Eunice Parsons, collage involves a particularly vital interplay of words, images, textures, shapes, and colors that mingle the new and the nostalgic, the present experience and the remembered time or place.
Eunice Parsons was born in Colorado in 1916, grew up in Chicago, and moved to Portland in 1938. Long interested in art, she enrolled in a painting class with Charles Voorhies at the Museum School in Portland in 1950. She eventually completed the equivalent of two years at the school in classes with Voorhies, William Givler, Louis Bunce, Jack McLarty, and others. A dynamic teacher, Parsons was an adjunct instructor at the Museum School from 1957 through 1979 except for 1960-1961, when she taught at Portland State University.
Parsons began her career as a painter and printmaker. In 1957, she rode the bus to New York to see firsthand the new movement of Abstract Expressionist painting. She adapted the fluid, spontaneous, experimental techniques of Abstract Expressionism to her own work including her collages, which she began to make in the 1960s.
Her first collages were studies for paintings and prints, but she soon realized that the studies were often complete visual statements in their own right. The chance viewing of a collage by the New York artist Anne Ryan in the collection of her friend Louis Bunce confirmed her belief that the medium was its own legitimate art form. “It was all over,” Parsons recalls, and collage became her favored and eventually exclusive medium. In a conversation in May 2009, she stated: “I love the torn edge–and the cut edge. I love edges. I love paper. It’s a passion.”
Parsons’ greatest activity in collage-making has occurred in two separate periods: the 1970s, and from the1990s to the present day. After her long-time friend and lover died in 1973, she went into relative seclusion and made a series of bold collages. These are large works with strong patterns of torn and cut papers in intense colors: red, white, blue, sometimes yellow, and black–the black often being the lettering from posters and other graphics. French and Italian words (torn from posters and advertising kiosks during trips to Europe beginning in 1965) give these collages an international flavor, sometimes evoking the mood of Fernand Leger’s work or Jean Dubuffet’s later pieces.
In contrast to her collages of the 1970s, Parsons’ later work is more delicate, more varied in colors and textures, and at times more concrete in imagery (with pictures of Milan’s Galleria, for instance, or an Edward Weston photograph). At the same time, her strong use of lettering and bold embrace of the international, especially European internationalism, assures unity and continuity to her collages spanning a period of 40 years.
I thank Eunice Parsons and her friend and agent Cary Doucette for their assistance in preparing this exhibition.
Professor of Art History and Curator of the Exhibition