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SCREENED SCULPTURE: Colby Parsons blends clay and projection in new CAM exhibit

Perception of surrounding environments differ between individuals. Some may find beauty in the simple serenity of nature, while others may be engulfed in the complexity of natural phenomena. Three contemporary artists will come together at Cameron Art Museum to incorporate technology and a plethora of unconventional materials to emphasize enigmatic beauty, and invite audiences to explore and expand their own viewpoints of the natural world.

DECLIVITY #1: Colby Parsons’ sculptures get a makeover with video imagery screened onto them in their final showcase. Courtesy image.

DECLIVITY #1: Colby Parsons’ sculptures get a makeover with video imagery screened onto them in their final showcase. Courtesy image.

CAM’s new exhibit, Beyond the Horizon, which opens Friday, features the works of Maya Lin, Teresita Fernandez and Jason Mitcham. Known for her work in architecture and sculpture, Lin brings a minimalist approach, using a number of materials to create representations of different landscapes and terrains. Fernandez incorporates a variety of elements into sculptures, depicting natural phenomena, including bits of glass, ceramics, wood, and aluminum. Fernandez is known for creating optical illusions within the details of her pieces. Mitcham includes video in a unique approach to paintings, which includes stop-motion animations that depict scenery within different environments.

Also utilizing video is visiting artist Colby Parsons. Parsons was trained in ceramics but offers a different take on sculpting in the final stages of production. “For the past 15 years, I have included video into my work,” Parsons explains. “It’s not necessarily the direction I started in, but something I’ve developed in a few different ways since I became an artist.”

Parsons is a sculptor and ceramics professor in Denton, Texas. When he isn’t creating new material, he is running the ceramics program at Texas Woman’s University.

“I learned to make pottery functionally and sculpturally,” he explains. “In graduate school, I pushed my work toward a more sculptural direction, but it was still mostly clay, along with a few other materials.”

What makes Parsons’ work visually stunning is his use of projectors to add a unique complexity and dynamic that appears to dance on the finished product. “In 2002 I had an idea that had to do with bringing a sense of emotion to static sculptural objects,” he explains. “I started looking into how I might be able to use video with the clay so I could still create the forms, but then have ways of movement seen on the surface.”

When imagining clay sculptures paired with video, it’s easy to assume the result would be like that of claymation. However, in Parsons’ works, the sculptures aren’t actually moving. Rather, they possess a sense of movement to the spectators.

“The difference with claymation and what I do is the artists move the object, take a shot, they move it again for another shot, and so on,” Parsons tells.

The sculptures are merely a part of the overall work of art. After Parsons’ sculpts the clay, he creates a simple pattern, such as lines moving across the screen. “When I worked with projectors in the past, I really liked the lines of the pixels,” he says. “When you point the projector at something that’s not smooth and flat, like a screen, you see the pixelated lines distorting around the form, kind of like a topographic map.”

As the pattern is projected at an angle, or a surface that has bumps, the once straight lines twist and curve. “The work I’m showing in Beyond the Horizon are clay forms that have a landscape quality to them,” Parsons divulges. “The forms on their own would seem complete, but really they’re not complete until they have patterns projected onto them.”

Each piece is tailored to fit the projected image. Parsons sets up the projector while the clay is still wet. “While I’m forming it, I am seeing how the light will hit certain angles,” he says, “so those patterns really flow around the form.” His work is more monochromatic with various grays, rather than color. Each piece possesses slightly different textures, such as stripes with various opacity to emphasize movement at different rates.

After the sculptures and patterns are ready for exhibit, Parsons allows extra time to set it up. It’s not nearly as simple as a typical display. “If I were to just point the striped pattern from the projector at one of the objects, part of the image would fall on that, and then part of it would fall on the wall or the floor,” he admits. “For this to really look like it’s perfectly adapted to the work, I have to go on site and redo the video.”

He began preparing the current exhibit a week in advance for Cameron’s opening on Friday night. The overall display is adjusted somewhat like a puzzle. “I go in and create a mask [after everything is set up,] which is basically like putting black pixels everywhere that’s not a part of the piece,” he explains. “Anywhere the image wouldn’t line up, I would have to draw a shape out. It’s like having a cut-out of black paper that the image shows through.”

For the chance to witness a rare marriage between sculpture and projection, Cameron Art Museum will host their opening reception for Beyond the Horizon on Friday, Feb. 3 from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. Admission to the opening reception is $10 for CAM members and guests. The exhibit will remain on display until July 9.

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