Growing up in Vermont, the outdoors was a calming, reflective, and sometimes mystical space for me. This feeling of connectedness with nature has always been a driving force in my life and work. As a painter, I have always been drawn to paint my surroundings and it is the natural world that most often catches my eye. I find everything about it captivating and the fact that it is always changing means I can be fascinated by the same place many times over.
My process begins with photography, as I often work from photographs. I take pictures on walks, on errands, all the time in daily life. I rely on the frame of the camera to help determine my composition and narrow my focus. I like spending a lot of time with a photograph and really marinating in the details as I paint from it. I work in acrylic or gouache on paper and panel. I like to explore and feel out a painting, leaving a lot of space for spontaneity and discovery. I love to be surprised by a line or color choice or shape - that is the ultimate painter’s high for me. I’m interested in nature in its pure form but also in the spaces where plants and people exist together, especially where this happens harmoniously. This is why I am so intrigued by gardens and gardening. I’m interested in the personality of a space and its natural inhabitants. While I don’t think a plant itself can be “sad” in the human sense, I do think each possess many interesting quirks, sometimes silly, sometimes sad, or majestic, strange or hopeful. I paint to capture that theoretical personality, not to attempt realism.
As someone who is obsessed with the landscape who is also living in a time of climate crisis, I find it impossible to ignore this fact in my work. My awe, appreciation, and love for nature exists simultaneously with the knowledge that it is under significant threat. As a human being and a mother, I often think about what the climate emergency and human inaction will make of life for us. In my work, I think of what it will make of the world and how vital wild things are to all of our lives.
Nola Parker is a self taught painter that lives and works in central Vermont. She graduated with a BA in English from The University of Texas at Austin in 2013. Her work has been exhibited nationally and is in permanent public collection in San Antonio, TX through the Salud-Arte Public Art Program. She has appeared in publications such as New American Paintings, Aether Art, and Candyfloss Magazine. She is currently represented in Texas by Wally Workman Gallery.
When was the first time you felt like you were an artist?
When I was about eight or nine, my family and I climbed Spruce Mountain in Vermont one weekend. I decided to bring a little notebook and write an epic and pretty melodramatic poem about the hike. I can still remember the thrill of writing a line my 8-year-old-self thought was good. I think every artist has a moment when they realize they feel most like themselves when they’re creating something. That day was it for me, when I first knew I would be making things in some capacity for the rest of my life. The other time would probably be my first group show where someone handed me a badge to wear that said “artist.” I kept that badge for a long time.
What would you say is the underlying thread that connects your work?
My fascination with the natural world drives most of my work. There are so many weird and beautiful things out there and painting the world is a way for me to have a little dialogue with the landscape as I remake it into something else. I think a challenging thing about being a human in the USA is that so much of our society is removed from nature, so much of our lives consist of driving in a car from one building to another. Still, I think everyone can identify with that feeling you get when you’re in a dark, quiet forest, or you notice a beautiful flower in someone’s yard, or when the leaves on a tree get twinkly in the wind. That feeling hits me hard and often, and my hunch is that it’s the animal part of me wanting to be more connected with the natural world. In this way I think an underlying thread that connects my work is a sense of longing: about being a part of something and also being separate from it.
What is the most satisfying part of your practice?
The most satisfying part for me is starting a new painting and putting down the first, messy layer. Everything feels possible then and it’s the time when stakes are at their lowest. Once I really get into a painting it’s a bit like going down a long tunnel that’s getting narrower and narrower until you just barely squeeze out the end. It’s a nice feeling to stand at the entrance to the tunnel with lots of space to walk around.
Tell us about a turning point in your artistic journey and/or career.
I think 2020 was a big turning point for me. The pandemic happened and I had a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old at home. For a long time, I occupied myself exclusively with their care and I put my work away. I don’t regret this, because it was what I needed to do at the time and I was really lucky to even be able to do this. That break I took just being with my kids gave me an entirely new perspective when I did finally get back into the studio. I was looking at things differently, I was using my time differently, and I was realizing I really needed to be in some sort of art community to thrive. I live in a rural area and I have young kids, which makes finding community challenging. I was really grateful to discover the Artist Mother Crit Crew (now Thrive Network) and later NYC Crit Club where I got to meet and talk with so many wonderful artists who are doing this exhilarating and occasionally agonizing thing.
If you could show your work anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
This is a really hard question. There are so many galleries and museums I love and admire and to show my work there would be a dream; places whose programming I’ve followed for a long time like Monya Rowe in NYC, Dianna Witte in Toronto, or Nahcotta in New Hampshire. Or maybe somewhere close to home like the Fleming or Brattleboro Museum in Vermont. Ultimately though, and maybe this is a boring or pretentious answer, but I think one of the best places to show work is in someone’s home. Living with a painting is so different from seeing it at a museum or opening and I still remember the art that hung in my parents’ house when I was growing up. I would love to one day have my work be available in a way where any kid could look at it hanging in their dining room while they’re having breakfast.