“I start by creating chaos on the canvas,” DeAnne Parks says, “with no clear plan or preconceived outcome.” As she paints, she turns the canvas horizontally and vertically, adding layers of paint. To get her mind “out of the way” while applying colors upon colors, she listens to story podcasts, TED Talks, sermons or music that’s new to her. As fresh thoughts come into her head – a line from a song, a Bible verse, a phrase or word – she jots them down on index cards that she keeps by her easel.
From the chaos, images begin to emerge. “It’s kind of like looking at clouds. I start to see things,” Parks says. As she paints, a main image comes forward from the textured surface to tell a story. “Most of my paintings have a story behind them.” She often works with themes related to human relationships and spirituality, often with messages of hope and concern for social justice. The theme or title of a finished work is always on one of those index cards.
Art as therapy
Although she enjoyed making art as a kid, Parks didn’t intend to become an artist. “I started comparing my work to others and thought it wasn’t good enough,” she remembers. Instead, she got a degree in psychology with a focus on art therapy. For years she has worked in hospital, church and retreat settings, making art with cancer patients; people recovering from strokes or traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries; developmentally disabled adults and children with special needs; teens and adults with depression, anxiety and mental illness.
At a time when Parks was looking into her own depression, a friend asked what she liked to do when she was young. “You should do that,” her friend advised.
“I loved to paint when I was little, so I went to Michael’s and got some art supplies. I painted my way right out of that depression,” she says. The next thing she knew she had a studio. “I ended up being an artist without really intending it. It was very organic, not planned out at all.”
“The Peace of Forgiveness” – Park’s artwork on this month’s cover – emerged from a time when she worked in a residence with adults disabled due to mental illness. They told her their stories. “For many there was a lack of forgiveness for themselves. Like a lot of us do, they would put themselves down, beat themselves up,” she says. As she worked on this painting, her thoughts centered on “wanting peace for them, that they could forgive themselves.” The central person in the painting appears to be wrapped in a crazy-quilt patterned comforter, standing strong, moving forward.
Parks has taken the past 18 months off from various residencies at hospitals and churches to focus on her art. She created and exhibited a new body of work in July at the A-Z Gallery in Lowertown, St. Paul. The exhibit was called “Fledglings and Seeds, Transitions and New Beginnings” – all words and themes she witnesses in our culture and these times – and in her own life.
After 16 years of working in a studio space in the Jax Building in downtown St. Paul, Parks found herself looking for a new space. In preparing for the move, she looked through years of her artistic journals. “I tore them up and made them into a giant seed. They became the creative DNA that would be replanted in my new studio.”
At the same time, she had been absorbing the stories she heard of refugees fleeing their homelands in boats. “I only had to leave my studio,” she says. “These fledglings have to leave their countries and homes. It would wake me up at night worrying about them.”
The refugee stories added a spark for her theme of transitions and new beginnings. The Women’s March in January 2017 also “planted seeds of compassion, seeds of change,” Parks says.
“I feel called to point out things that are right and are not right in this world. To celebrate things that are right – like the Women’s March call to action – and to call out things that are not right.”
Parks now shares a studio space with two other full-time artists in the Midtown Triangle Building on University Ave. in St. Paul. Aside from her paintings created with water-mixable oils, she also works in found object sculpture, ceramic sculpture and paper maché. “It depends on what calls out to me,” she says.
Sometimes, Parks repaints her finished canvases. “All of a sudden, I’ll feel called to paint over a piece. Most of my best paintings tend to be the second or third paintings on a canvas. It becomes completely different,” she says.
“I look at my paintings like the stories of our lives,” Parks says. “We change and we grow and we become better when we do. My paintings do the same thing.”