50 States – Alaska with Austin Parkhill
Austin Parkhill – “What I find especially common in Alaska is the connection between people and the natural environment.”
Today we’ve got our woolly gloves on because we’re in Alaska with Austin Parkhill for the 6th instalment of The Creative Chair’s ‘50 States’ series.
Austin is a very talented artist who specialises in large-scale, highly realistic paintings. You can see more projects on his website.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself and what you do.
I am an artist living and working in Homer, Alaska. Often described as a “hyperrealist” painter, I’ve exhibited my artwork nationally including at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., and I maintain gallery representation with Plus Gallery (Denver).
From 2011 to 2015 I lived in the Arctic, where the shifting climate and the coexistence of people & nature have come to motivate my recent work, MEGAfauna. I painted and taught art at Ilisagvik College, a tribal college in the northernmost town in the US, Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska. Prior to my time at the edge of the Arctic Ocean, I lived in Colorado and Boston, MA.
In 2015, I was awarded the Connie Boochever Artist Fellowship by the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Currently, I am working on paintings that further explore climate change and human connection in the Alaskan Arctic. I continue to spend time in the Arctic to inform my work.
How has your state influenced the work that you do?
Certainly, one cannot live on the Arctic Coast and not be deeply impacted by extreme environment. What I find especially common in Alaska is the connection between people and the natural environment.
To say that many Alaskans depend on the ground (or ice) beneath their feet for survival would be an understatement. As anywhere, nurturing this connection responsibly benefits all involved, while neglect or disrespect do harm.
Of your own work, what is your favourite project and why?
Portraiture has always been of great interest to me. My career began in earnest with very large-scale, highly realistic portraits. I very rarely do commissioned portraits, but rather select subjects on my own. These are people I know or who have impacted me.
There is something perpetually intriguing about massively expanding a person’s face, and analysing it anew. Palette transitions and textures can be incredibly alluring when given so much space to play out. We attribute so many qualities to a face, and scale and detail allow me to deconstruct or amplify those qualities.
That said, I don’t know if I can select a “favourite” project. I am embroiled in my wildlife-based MEGAfauna series right now, and I thoroughly enjoy the connection between my work and my surroundings. I believe the Arctic is critical to the rest of the planet, whether people perceive it that way or not. It is an example for all of us to consider.
And finally, if you died and got reincarnated as a song, what would that song be?
Typical of an artist, I have enough ego to believe I should write my own reincarnation song…nevermind my paltry musical abilities. But it would have to involve banjo, Scruggs or clawhammer, and it would have enough atmospheric quality to make you forget where you are while you listen to it.
Maybe I give the nod to Iron & Wine, perhaps to Horse Feathers. Maybe Sylvan Esso steals the show, banjo or no.
- Alaska became the 49th State on the 3rd January 1959
- Sometimes called ‘Americas last frontier’
- Has a coastline that is over 6,600 miles long