As long as there have been artists, there have been artists depicting monsters.
Some paint the creatures that inhabit the unknown spaces of land or sea, or some, the creatures that torment the psyche. Seeing the work of local artist Liz Parrish, it is evident that she has taken these demons and made them her beloved pets.
"Here Be Monsters" is the new show opening Thursday at the Grey Art Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St. The show title is a nod to the notion that mapmakers once marked off unknown, frightening or dangerous areas of the maps of the seas with the phrase "Here Be Monsters," often accompanied by engravings of fanciful creatures and serpents. Perhaps meant as a warning to sailors to not stray too far off course, Parrish's use of the phrase has a much more welcoming ring to it, inviting you to explore the world she creates.
Parrish is a Bloomsburg native who has relocated to Williamsport. She graduated in 2008 from Lycoming College with a bachelor's degree in art and later in 2010 from the Pennsylvania College of Technology with an associate degree in nursing. It was at Lycoming that she met her husband who also was a student.
She's been drawing as long as she can remember, most recently populating her own menagerie of fanciful little creatures. Unlike those on the maps that rear their serpent heads in warning, Parrish's seem to go about their day in a rather mundane, though surreal way. Her creatures are grotesque, of course, but this somehow serves to make them more lovable. They may cavort naked, but there is nothing puerile or obscene in it. A creature from one piece, in fact the piece that Parrish chose as the promotional image for the show, fostered a bit of discussion between Parrish and her husband, as to whether some might see it as inappropriate. The creature has a large head and long, tapered body that curls up, not unlike a shrimp's tail. Yet it isn't the tail, as such, that gives her husband pause, it's what it might suggest, if the arms of the beast are thought of as legs.
"Those are legs" he argued.
"No, they're arms! It's just that they have feet for hands" she said.
Despite the absurdity of having leg-like arms with feet for hands, I can see it. They are arms and the body is curled pretty much the way one might curl it if, somehow, one's body were shaped like that and one happened to be sitting at home in the nude, quite un-self-consciously in what appears to be a hallway or spare bedroom. "At home" is the key phrase here - Parrish's beasts are most definitely at home in their world, not in the dank basements or creepy, cob-webbed attics of their existence but out in the light, unashamed of their grotesqueness, not unlike people, after all.
She draws her inspiration from life, often referencing people she knows in her drawings. One piece we discussed, a piece that had hung in an earlier show at the Grey, had two of her creatures comparing the sizes of their feet, a scene drawn directly from her marriage.
"[My husband] has really small feet, the same size as mine, almost."
This, of course, demanded a demonstration during the interview: Sure enough, his feet were nearly as small as hers a fact belied by the significant difference in their heights. Seeing the two of them like this, it's easy to see where the playfulness of her work comes from.
Parrish's work is well-known locally. Her work has been shown just about everywhere around town where art is hung, so when John Yogodzinski and Casey Gleghorn opened the Grey Art Gallery this past summer, they asked to hang her pieces. Her work has been a part of nearly every show since and consistently sells very well, further broadening her base of collectors and admirers.
"She may be my highest-grossing artist," Gleghorn said, noting that her pieces are individually very reasonable. "She's a very diligent artist," he added.
She has a studio at the Pajama Factory and it was here that Yogodzinski and Gleghorn began developing their plan to open a gallery. Their studio was steps away from Parrish's, so it was natural that the three of them became friends and natural that they wanted Parrish to be a part of what they were doing.
At the Grey Gallery, Parrish has had the opportunity to hang her work beside that of internationally known artists, something that nearly every up-and-coming artist craves. In this show, it is Parrish who is headlining.
The Grey Art Gallery, since its beginning, has made its mission to bring a broad range of artists to Williamsport. Yogodzinski and Gleghorn, who are well known in the area as music promoters, book the artists for the gallery the way they book acts for the local hardcore scene, adding a mix of artists from the local area with those they've brought in from all over the country.
This benefits everyone involved: new and younger artists get to work with those who are more established and the more established artists can keep their finger on the pulse of what's happening on the street.
"Here Be Monsters" at the Grey is certainly this kind of show: the roster includes veteran New York artists, artists from all over Pennsylvania, Florida and California. Some are musicians as well, which fits with the gallery's close ties to the music scene and a couple of them have spent time in the area as a part of the local Public Art Academy's Summer Artist-in-Residence program at the Pajama Factory.
The show's opening reception will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Williamsport-based Key of V's music will accompany the artwork at the opening reception. Along with performing their signature slew of gritty acoustic pop-punk-psychedelia, both members of Key of V are admirers of featured artist Parrish's work.
The gallery will continue to display the work for the month of January with regular hours being offered from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Extended hours will be available during First Friday. Visits by appointment may be set up by calling 435-7080. For more information about the gallery, visit www.greyartgallery.com.