Faculty of the Fortnight: Rick Parsons

Inspiring students through his love for art and teaching

The first floor of the Holman Art building is home to Art Professor Rick Parsons.

Clay pots, sculptures and ceramics fill the room along with a thin layer of dust from the clay. Students work intently on their projects while music from the radio plays either loudly or softly depending on the moment.

We talk in three different locations and move throughout the building seeking solace from the loud music and buzz of students critiquing their work while being careful to avoid leftover art substances like ink, paint or clay every time we sit down.

Rick Parsons (center) instructs ceramics students in the Holman Art and Media building
Bliss Georgiev
Rick Parsons (center) instructs ceramics students in the Holman Art and Media building

“I’m perceived as being an interdisciplinary artist,” Parsons said.  “I usually use material as metaphor.  I will use steel as a metaphor for a social or spiritual structure; something we perceive as being strong, rigid and firm.  We build our buildings with it.

Parsons also uses clay as a “metaphor for body.”

“It has the ability to absorb,” he said. “I will fire things just enough to get them hard, and then I actually soak them in salt water and iodine.”

This leaves the clay porous ready to absorb the elements over time.  

“I am actually using a scientific sense, where it should be used as a filter.”

Parsons said, “the salt ends up having that burn. It’s an interesting process; salt is healing and can help the body, but at the same time is very corrosive.  That’s when I bring steel and salt together.  That thing we perceive as being very strong can be broken down with something as simple as salt. Those things are in conflict with each other.  And a lot of things that we live with, within our society and culture, have conflicts.”

Parsons grew up in Galveston, Texas along the saltwater marshes of the Bayou.  

His work is influenced by that environment, and the industrial landscape found there.  

He said, “the salt, the imagery, and the rusted steel are something you would see every day in Galveston. The stark contrast of my work draws people to the images, and the embedded content of the material of choice subliminally impacts the viewer in a way.  There are always two layers to the work.  The material I use and the images.”

Parsons is concerned with the consequences of our current production of pollution.  

He said, “the silhouettes are depicting things that are looming concerns in the future.  One being water, a finite resource.  There is only a certain amount of water on the planet.  Thinking about that, the other is electricity and what generates the electricity.  Is it hydroelectric, coal, or is it nuclear?”

Parsons believes that art isn’t just something to look at.  

“My hope is that people engage with the work and try to break it down more like a puzzle than just an observation,” he said. “A lot of people think art is something you passively observe.  It’s pretty and that’s all it is.  In my work I hope that it’s interesting enough that people stop, and start to investigate the work to try and figure out how it is that this thing fits together.”

Teaching for seven years doesn’t seem that long to Parsons.  

He said, “the great thing about art is that it’s ever changing.  The students change and they are so in tuned with culture, the environment, and life, that every time a new group comes in they are a recording of what is happening at that time.”  

Parsons compares the western movies of the ‘70s to today’s culture to help explain how different we process information.  

He said back then it could take 20 minutes to watch a rider cross the desert in a movie, but now only six minutes would seem like an eternity to a millennial viewer.  

Parsons added that the Art Department now becomes a model to the other disciplines in teaching techniques.  

Instead of long lectures and reading assignments teachers have to ask students questions, play them videos and break them out in groups to keep the students engaged.  

The critique environment and entrepreneurial actions come into play.

“Those are things the art world has been doing for years. We have always wanted our students to be innovative,” Parsons said. “We are always asking for our students to be individuals, and to come out with their own personal ideas and to manifest them somehow. In the business world, that’s what they ask of students now. They want them to be entrepreneurs and to come up with a creative idea or a solution.”