Per Contra is an international journal of arts, literature, and ideas. I was recently interviewed for the on-line journal by Miriam Kotzin. Here are the opening questions with a link to the entire interview. She really covered everything, going back to my earliest work. I have found in all of her interviews with artists, she is interested in their process. I much prefer this to an academic, theoretical approach.
Leslie Parke, The Per Contra Interview by Miriam N. Kotzin
MK: When you were a child did you go to museums? Pay attention to the art in your home?
LP: When I was very young I used to pour over my parents’ two art books. One was Fifty Centuries of Art from the Metropolitan Museum, and the other was a survey of American art. What I felt when looking through those books was that I wanted to live inside a painting.
We lived just outside of New York City, and my mother took me to my first museum exhibition when I was nine or so. It was a retrospective of Turner at the Modern. I remember feeling when I walked through the rooms that I wanted to know everything about what I was seeing, but I wanted to get that information directly from the paintings. I was not one to read labels.
We did not have anything in our house that one would call art. Occasionally there was an exceptional object, but that came later when my Grandfather died. A Lalique vase that I paint frequently came from him.
We did have a neighbor, however, whose house was full of art and extraordinary objects. We lived next door to the Zerns. Ed Zern wrote a column for the magazine Field and Stream, called “Exit Laughing.” In his house was very good African sculpture; furniture by Eames and other famous architect/designers; and paintings by Jimmy Ernst, Calder and Ben Shahn, all of whom were counted among his friends. I frequently hung out at their house. Allegedly I went there to water their plants, but I was there mostly to look at the art. From the beginning, they treated me very seriously and would frequently question me about what I saw in the art. It was a blessing to be welcomed into this tribe so early in life.
MK: When did you begin to make art?
LP: I feel as though I first started making art when I made a hand print in clay in nursery school. It is my earliest memory. The next time I did something that was meaningful to me was when I drew copies of Renaissance paintings when I was home sick from school for several days. Even in the beginning, making art for me was a comment about other art.
I did not have a facility for making art. Execution was always a struggle. And I was not really interested in the world around me. I was only interested in other art.
Every choice I made from a very early age was to put me in connection with that art. By the time I was ten I took lessons at the Museum of Modern Art, and a little later I studied with graduate students at the Metropolitan. Every free moment I had I wandered through the museums of New York.
MK: How did you decide to become an artist? What influences shaped that decision?
LP: The decision to become an artist came so early, there was never a time that I didn’t think that I would be one.
Although my parents were not particularly artistic, they were handy. When I was a toddler, my father decided that he wanted to build two wooden sailboats. My mother told him that if he built them in the basement she would never see him, so she told him to build them in the living room. And this was in the suburbs of New York. These boats ended up being my play-pens. I would sit in the hull and “help” my father build the boat. If you ask me – that’s making art. My love of paint came from my father and his working on these boats. There was two-part epoxy, copper paint, and paint with sand in it. My father painted the stripes on the waterline using masking tape a la Ken Noland. He never took care of his brushes and left them in a coffee can with turpentine. I was always fooling with these brushes to see if the bristles were still any good, or if they had dried out or become too bent. So, all that materiality was present. As well as, constructing things using weird materials – like fiberglass fabric, to fiberglass a dingy.
Here is the link to the rest of the interview: Per Contra Interview with Leslie Parke
Miriam N. Kotzin writes both poetry and fiction that has appeared in more than 100 print and online publications; her poetry received five nominations for a Pushcart Prize. She writes both formal poetry and free verse; her fiction ranges from flash fiction to a blognovel. She has been a contributing editor of Boulevard since its inception. A teacher of creative writing and literature, she directs Drexel University’s Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing and is a former director of the Literature Program. She is the author of A History of Drexel University, two collections of poetry Reclaiming the Dead (New American Press 2008) and Weights & Measures (Star Cloud Press 2009), and a collection of flash fiction, Just Desserts (Star Cloud Press 2010). She writes a bi-weekly column “Second Acts” in The Smart Set. Don Gastwirth represents her literary novel, Cutter’s Vision.