Parker Day is a Los Angeles based artist whose work explores identity and the masks we wear. Her focus is on fictionalized portraiture shot in studio, exclusively on 35mm film. The world she creates is populated by colorful eccentrics from the seamy side of life. She forgoes Photoshopped fantasies in favor of so-called blemishes, fly away hairs, and dust on negatives. This gritty realism serves as a counter point to her refined studio lighting and stylized subjects.
“I believe identity is a malleable construct that we have the power to dismantle” She explains. “Through my photography I explore this idea of the invention of identity. I costume my subjects and craft narratives about the character they’re becoming. When they step outside of who they think they are, something more authentic comes through. It’s that presence of true emotion that I’m looking to capture in the trappings of a manufactured circumstance."
Where are you originally from?
San Jose, CA
Where do you currently live?
Preferred art medium
Hobby or interest aside from art?
Cats. I’m a cat lady.
The trashiest of trash TV. I’m talking Ex on the Beach, Real Housewives (New York and Beverly Hills, only), AHS.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
David Lynch, Weegee, Jim Jarmusch, Caravaggio.
Down by Law by Jim Jarmusch.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Carlos Castaneda books.
I love Leonard Cohen. My first tattoo (I have many) was a tramp stamp that reads “Waiting for the Miracle.” It’s the title of a beautiful Leonard Cohen song but you can imagine the crude dudes who have said things like “I’ll be your miracle, baby.”
What are 3 things you want to achieve?
A retrospective of my work in a major contemporary art museum; a monograph by Taschen; and an honorary degree. Shoot for the stars!
What is something you deeply love about yourself?
The same thing I used to hate about myself: my sensitivity.
How has Instagram worked for you as an artist?
It’s working like a charm. When I left college (in 2005), there was no Instagram, Tumblr, or Youtube and social media was very new. There weren’t many opportunities for emerging artists to, well, emerge! Now we have accessible platforms to reach a broad audience. We have access to great power.
Briefly describe the circumstances under which you grew up
My dad owned a comic book store which I was practically raised in.
How do you think these circumstances influenced your art?
Basically my whole aesthetic and vibe I owe to comic books. Especially Golden Age superhero books and ‘60s underground comix. And let’s not forget Mars Attacks. You can’t beat the paintings from the original card series.
What would you say are your artwork’s main themes?
The transmutable nature of identity; the struggle to assert yourself, especially in adolescence; controlled madness.
“The transmutable nature of identity; the struggle to assert yourself, especially in adolescence; controlled madness”
How would you describe your style?
Someone else described it as “David LaChapelle and Cindy Sherman’s technicolor love child” and I think that has a nice ring to it.
What are you trying to communicate with your art?
I wouldn’t say I’m trying to communicate anything. I’m expressing what feels real to me and working through my own ideas on identity and my own inner tensions, and doing that through an aesthetic that I get a kick out of. Whatever people pick up from that is theirs.
(Certain) Artists tend to have a stereotype attached to them of being dramatic with addictive personalities. What do you feel about this assumption?
Guilty as charged!
Do you find yourself drawn to any addictive disorder?
Have you had any struggle with mental illness and if so, would you like to share your experience with us?
I believe my mom has an undiagnosed mental illness and growing up with only her after my dad died and no siblings I had no perspective on her actions and thought that I was at fault, that I was causing her to act how she did (because that’s what she’d tell me). Reality was very unhinged and I had to struggle to figure out who I was and what was true for me.
“Reality was very unhinged and I had to struggle to figure out who I was and what was true for me”
Artists paths are normally non-linear. Can you recall for us what your path has been like?
I went to art university straight out of high school then dropped out 3 years later. I was a nightclub event producer/promoter, then I went to beauty school and was a freelance hairstylist, then finally had a bit of a life crisis and realized how unsatisfied I was. Chance led me to do a photo shoot for a friend and I realized that the most present I ever feel is when I’m doing photography and that that is the path for me. That was 2 years ago and I’ve been going full speed ahead down that path since then.
What kind of patterns, routines or rituals do you have to keep the creative juices flowing?
Running is the best! It’s meditative and empowering. A lot of ideas break through in clarity when I run.
Do you think your ethnicity, gender, and/or personal preferences drove you towards becoming an artist?
Obviously my personal preferences. I don’t see my ethnicity or gender as factors though.
What is your opinion of the art world as it is right now? is there anything you'd like to change?
It’s still controlled by European white men but I do see a change taking place to a larger representation of women and PoC which is fantastic.
How do you think the internet aids/complements the art world? And how do you think it deteriorates it?
The internet gives a voice to those who have been silent. The art world has moved very slowly and the internet speeds everything up and I believe gives rise to the opportunity for shifts in power.
What draws you towards your particular art medium?
Working with people is critical for me personally and having immediacy of interaction. The process of the shoot itself is a big part of why I do what I do. I love it!
How have you developed your own unique style?
By being very deliberate in the structure of it, tbh. I spent a lot of time thinking, researching, testing, and mostly writing before I started ICONS, my series of 100 character portraits. I knew I would be most successful if I crafted a consistent style that I’d be happy to stick with.
“I’m expressing what feels real to me and working through my own ideas on identity and my own inner tensions”
What is the main obstacles you have had to overcome as an artist?
My own ideas of limited self worth/value as a person and an artist.
Anything else you’d like to add?
My series of 100 character portraits, ICONS, will debut in a solo show at Superchief Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles in February, 2017. ICONS will then be shown at Screaming Sky Gallery in Portland in April, 2017. An ICONS book will also be released in February.