Joel Parker’s Baptist background didn’t prepare him for the college drinking scene. As a College of Charleston triple major (art history, studio art, and historic preservation), Parker used his art to make sense of this new world filled with binge drinking, fraternity parties, and sexually charged interactions. His resulting paintings of naked coeds are disturbing, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Parker says he is interested in the classical tradition and using the “known perimeters of painting in a way that challenges the public.”
Facebook was growing in popularity during his junior and senior years of college, and Parker became fascinated with the images shared online. The highly personal photos seemed to make a statement about identity and values. Inspired by this transitory stage of life, in which “students are navigating social order and individual identity as they move into adulthood,” he combed through the images, searching for compositions to recreate on canvas.
It wasn’t until graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis that Parker began painting nudes. “When students put these photos online, they are in a sense baring their souls to the world by showing the world what is important to them, and by the sheer volume of images posted, it seems partying (pleasure), community, and ritual (structure) are very important.”
The large-scale oil paintings are meant to provoke conversations about college drinking, coming of age, and the desire for community in a way that is both clever and aesthetically pleasing. Subjects are captured in poses like a keg stand, but in Parker’s painting, the young woman, whose legs are held above a keg by three others while she chugs from the tap, is naked. In another, two women walk down the beach carrying a keg between them, casual in their nudity, as if they are fully clothed; the effect is uncomfortably funny, lingering with you after you walk away.
“By juxtaposing classic Renaissance paintings with modern figures, Parker raises the commentary of our generation’s rite of passage into adulthood,” says SCOOP’s Colleen Deihl. “The viewer should look past the naked figures to see the deeper issues with our culture and society.”
Parker says his style changes depending on the artist he’s trying to emulate. Favorites include Manet, Lucien Freud, and Caravaggio. Contemporary artists like John Currin and College of Charleston’s Cliff Peacock have also influenced Parker’s work. Since presenting at the last Pecha Kucha in May, Parker has steadily gained attention throughout the Lowcountry with his provocative, entertaining paintings that examine the way young men and women stumble through this transitory stage of life.