Visionary Interpreters of Inner & Outer Worlds: Part 2 · Jessica Park
With a rainbow-colored palette, artist Jessica Park transforms her meticulously drawn architectural monuments into compositions of decorative brilliance. Lights of all sorts radiate from the atmospheric heavens surrounding her houses, bridges, and skyscrapers. Day-lit features and nighttime skies appear in the same painting. Intricate details highlighted by carefully applied hues mark her pictures. Park is an artist with an unusual ability. Her visionary world of imagination and creativity has emerged from a combination of artistry and her lifelong struggle with autism.
Jessica Hilary Park was born in 1958 in North Adams, Massachusetts, near Williamstown, where she currently resides. Although early manifestations of autism threatened to shut down her life, she was fortunate to have a family of resourceful parents and siblings determined to bring her into the world of thinking and acting.
Art was a way for Park to connect, and her mother, Clara Claiborne Park -- whose two books about her remarkable daughter are considered seminal biographies on a life with autism -- began to draw with her when she was very young. Jessica, who did not speak until age eight, responded well to drawing, easily recognizing shapes and colors. As her drawing evolved, stick figures and elementary scenes comprising short narratives became a means for her to acquire language, through labeling and storytelling.
As Park became more adept at language, she attended school and continued to draw. In high school (which she entered at age twelve), given the opportunity to further explore the rudiments of drawing and color, she focused her keen observational skills by creating accurate, lively line compositions.
After Park graduated, in 1979, her art career took off, initially with colorful renderings of her favorite household objects, such as heaters and blanket controls. Introduced by her mother to receptive audiences, these pictures were greatly appreciated and sold well. Over the next several years, Park completed a series of paintings featuring doors, railroad crossings, and houses, which were sought after by clients who commissioned her work. She began loading the skies in her works with astronomical objects, fireworks, and inventions of her own, such as "horizontal" rainbows. By age thirty Park was an accomplished artist. But continuing her evolution, she introduced a creative mix of her signature buildings, skyscrapers, and bridges rendered with surprising originality.
Largely self-taught, Park has an exceptional ability to articulate balance, volume, and depth through meticulous application of color combinations in finely detailed patterns. She has combined the drafting skills honed during her high school years and the acrylic paints that became her chosen medium with her "enthusiasms" and carefully developed principles of order to become an accomplished artist.
In 1995, at the urging of patron/client and Williams College professor of art history S. Lane Faison, Park's work was recognized with a retrospective exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art. Her work has been in individual and group shows at western Massachusetts galleries and is in the permanent collection of the Bennington Museum in southwestern Vermont. Park received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) in 2003. In 2008 the Jessica Park Project at MCLA created a traveling show of her work accompanied by a catalog, Exploring Nirvana: The Art of Jessica Park, with a foreword by the distinguished neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, who made a documentary video about the artist titled Rage for Order. This exhibit, A World Transformed, draws its title from an art biography on Park by Tony Gengarelly, published in February 2014.
In Jessica Park, autism has found art. Through the imagination of the artist, both have become engines of transformation, bringing to life an unprecedented world of visionary beauty. Ultimately, Park's singular life suggests a new way to approach and appreciate difference and diversity. Her extraordinary art, and that of other artists on the autism spectrum, invites altered perceptions toward those with so-called disabilities. Their work is a profound witness to another way of seeing art, and it awakens our sense of value for the lives it represents so compellingly.
Copyright 2014, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont