published Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Lover of Light: Oil painter inspired by contrast of light and shadow

“The Carpenter’s Shop”
“The Carpenter’s Shop”

PAINTING DEMONSTRATION

Joe Parrott will participate in a free Plein Air painting demonstration at River Gallery on Saturday, March 22, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A second River Gallery painter, Mike Berry, also will participate in the painting demonstration.

IF YOU GO

* What: "Impressions" with painters Joe Parrott and Mia Merlin and glasswork by Yaffa & Jeff Todd.

* Where: River Gallery, 400 E. Second St.

* When: Through March 31.

* Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

* Admission: Free.

* Information: 423-265-5033 or river-gallery.com.

Joe Parrott admits he's hooked ... but it's a rather benign monkey on his back.

There's something about light, the way it plays along buildings and across landscapes, through trees and off rivers that grabs Parrott's artistic soul and tugs like mad. He admits he's helpless in its grasp.

"It's just a big inspiration to me," he says over the phone while driving around his home of Knoxville. "I can't really explain it except that I can paint just about anything if the light on it is good."

"Just about anything" describes the oil paintings that Parrott now has on display at the River Gallery in Bluff View. There are paintings of light bouncing brightly off snow, of fading light through trees blazing with fall colors, of light and shadow hopscotching their way down the Riverwalk.

"I want my work to express the elation I feel when I see bright sunlight bouncing off a brick building; when I see sparkling reflections in a body of water; when I see a bright blue sky illuminating objects in a deep shadow," Parrott says in his artist's statement for the show.

People who've seen his work seem to get what it.

"They really respond to his use of light and shadow," says Angie Supan, assistant director in charge of sales at the gallery.

Parrott, 69, has been painting for most of his life, but it wasn't a full-time job until he retired a couple of years ago. Still, creative work has always been front and central. A 1967 graduate with a degree in business from the University of Tennessee, he spent decades working as a graphic designer at Parrott Printing, the sign business his father started in 1932.

He started with old-school design work that involved straight-edge razor blades and paste ups with glue and wax, then transitioned to computer-aided design when desktop publishing took over graphic design in the 1980s.

Despite his full-time day job, he continued painting when he could -- until another obsession took over in 1992.

Airplanes.

"From 1992 until 2002, I didn't paint at all," he says. "I got wrapped up in building and flying radio-controlled airplanes. It became an all-consuming hobby."

Eventually, though, the thrill of flight was gone and the joy of painting returned. His son now runs the printing business, Parrott says, giving him the chance to paint full-time. But even that has changed a bit in the past few years.

"From the beginning, I painted pretty much cityscapes exclusively, every now and then a landscape," he says. "But in the last four years, I've gotten interested in landscapes and 'plein air' painting."

"Plein air" simply means painting out in nature, a time-consuming and sometimes difficult pursuit.

"It's a lot more demanding of your time," he explains. "You usually have to drive a good distance ... and it's dependent on the weather.

And, as someone interested in light, plein air can be kind of stressful because light changes so quickly out of doors.

"You've got to pretty much finish your painting in two hours because, by then, the light has changed."

For him, the studio tends to be a better fit.

"I have a very comfortable studio," he says with a laugh. "It's air conditioned and heated and has good light."

Contact Shawn Ryan at sryan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327.

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