YEATS SAID BY LOGIC and reason we die hourly; by imagination we live. If so, local fantasy artist Leonard Parkin - while not the next Methuselah - will certainly have a long life.
At first glance, Parkin appears intimidating: He's built like a '55 Buick. But after a warmhearted smile and a few soft-spoken words, this bald and bearded gentle giant leaves one with the impression that nursery rhymes are his literary staple.It's easy to spot one of Parkin's paintings. There is the ubiquitous blackness of outer space aglow with clusters of glittering stars, large swirling planets and gaseous pastel clouds. In the foreground, children and animals play on mounds of grass, lean against fences or hang from tree houses, oblivious to the majestic, celestial spectacle surrounding them.
Parkin's childhood fascination with stars and planets was intensified when he joined the Navy. Stationed aboard an aircraft carrier used as a recovery vessel for the early space shots, Parkin had the opportunity to photograph and talk with several astronauts.
"Walking and talking with men like Gus Grissom and John Glenn thrilled my imagination," says Parkin, "leaving it to wander . . . and wonder."
Parkin has been painting his fantasy pieces for 15 years. "When I came to Utah from Idaho in '81," Parkin says, "I was doing landscapes. I heard there was a position open for an artist at the Ensign magazine so I went in and talked to Warren Luchs. I had my portfolio all spread out on the table. There was this Polaroid of one of my pieces, an eagle flying over some clouds with a planet behind it, and Luchs liked it. He said, `You know, with all the colleges around here, I can get a landscape artist anytime I want. But this one of space is different. I've never seen anything like it before."'
Self-taught but proficient in many mediums, Parkin prefers alkyds over oil, acrylic or watercolor. Alkyds brush out smooth and produce an exceptionally luminous look. The drying time is shorter than oils and longer than acrylics.
He paints on Masonite (finished on both sides to prevent warping), blocking in color areas with watered-down acrylics after fixing the surface with gesso. At this point Parkin begins painting, using glazes.
"I use multiple glazes on my paintings to get that special, deep-space glow," he says. "I very seldom mix the color I want on my palette. I mix it on the painting."
In 1994, Parkin painted two murals for the Oncology Department at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City. The murals, "The Land of Chromos" and "A Day at Doogh's House," hang in a treatment room, comforting children undergoing chemotherapy and other unpleasant procedures. They are magical works, filled with strange lands and houses and planets and children at play. Parkin's fantastical art surely helps the children travel to a place less scary, less painful.
Parkin and his wife Cheryl have seven children and six grandchildren. His original paintings, limited-edition prints and posters can be found at Repartee Frameworks Galleries in Park City, Salt Lake City (managed by Cheryl), Orem and the new gallery in the Valley Fair Mall.Cheryl will leave the Foothill gallery to manage the Valley Fair operation.