Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

Sonoma artist Fred Parker goes for the grape in ‘last big’ show

Fred Parker knew the time for his “last hurrah” was hovering near, and when he discovered the Alley Gallery he knew he’d found the place to have it.

For many years creating new art and installing his own show was the goal at the top of his bucket list. “Where?” was the question, and the new gallery at the La Haye Art Center presented the answer.

Parker is in pretty much perfect health, yet he said he realizes time is getting shorter. “I’m 77 and I really wanted to do this before I go,” he said. He spent months working on the 22 new pieces that make up “My Last Big Syrah,” a play on words chosen because of the grape vine imagery in his new work.

Predominantly a landscape artist, Parker has painted more vineyards than he can remember. While working on them, he often fantasized about what it would be like to take a small section of a larger scene, maybe one vine or a few leaves, and make them the primary focus. So what better time than his one-man show to make this second dream a reality.

He first photographed 11 of these small scenes, made computer printouts of each and then painted on them with liquid acrylic ink and pastels. He calls these framed 9 by 13 inch paper originals the “first generation.” He then enlarged each of them onto 48-by 32-inch canvases, which he then painted on again, creating a “second generation.” The canvases are stretched on custom boards with rounded corners so they “float” on the wall, and are $3,500. The smaller pieces are $600.

He also made 12 sets of high quality prints of each of the 11 second generation originals, which he signed and put in handmade boxes from France, and is selling each for $600.

Parker has been on the Sonoma art scene since 1986, when he opened the Broadway Artists Gallery where he lived and worked until the space became unavailable in 2005. He then moved to his current live-in gallery and studio in Kenwood, Parker Fine Arts. He also serves as the resident artist for Deerfield Winery. He was Sonoma’s Treasured Artist of the Year in 1992, and for 15 years ran the now-defunct Press House Gallery at Buena Vista Winery.

Many art shows at the Alley Gallery last a weekend or two, but part of Parker’s dream was to show his work for five weeks, and to be onsite everyday, working on new paintings while awaiting visitors. He sets his easel just outside the gallery door, working in natural light and sometimes catches the eye of First Street East passersby, who glance down the alley just past the Sebastiani Theatre and decide to see what he’s up to.

He’s there six days a week, six hours a day, and he loves it. “I’m still energetic and I’m having a good time,” he said, and he’s happy about the sales he’s made, too.

When Parker was 46, he left a career as a successful curator at the Santa Barbara Art Museum to, he says, “devote the rest of my life to making my own art.” He had put on many shows for other artists, there and at Friends of Photography in Carmel and at UC Davis. He wanted to concentrate on his own work, which has sustained him all these years.

“I seldom do a single media artwork,” he said. “Most of my artworks are combinations of media.” He integrates photography and computer images with his painting. “Instead of a blank canvas, I make and use a print as an "underpainting" and make it unique... another original.”

His work hangs in local collections at the di Rosa Museum in Napa, Homewood Winery, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and the El Pueblo Inn, as well as in museums in Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska and Louisiana.

Parker has a longstanding association with the Kenwood Elementary School, where he been a volunteer art teacher and has arranged for other artists to teach there as well. He will donate a portion of his sales from this one-man show to support the school's art program he created.

“My Last Big Syrah” runs until Sept. 27, 2 to 8 pm, at the Alley Gallery at La Haye Art Center, 148 E. Napa St., Sonoma.
SPECIAL TO THE INDEX-TRIBUNE     September 11, 2015