Mike Parr is a seminal figure in the contemporary Australian art scene. He is best known for his emergence as a performance artist and concept artist in the late 1960’s producing hundreds of performance and multimedia pieces during an important era for the development of that genre within the Australian art scene.
It was a time when performance art was not acknowledged as a visual art, which might explain why Parr emerged with such force.
One of his most renowned early works involved him seated calmly in front of an audience before beginning to attack his forearm with an axe, unbeknownst to the audience that he in fact suffered the loss of his arm as an infant and was wearing a prosthetic arm filled with mince and fake blood.
He is noted for performance works involving a great deal of stress to the physical body, such as an installation of the artist in a gallery for days without food and water, or 100 Breaths a visual/multimedia work during which, with 100 breaths, Parr breaths and holds a different etching to his face. As he suffers loss of oxygen in the bloodstream, his face – the focal point of the video – naturally disfigures and the viewer is subjected to the stress he is inducing on his body. In another work Parr’s face is sewn with thread to disfigure it into an expression of disgrace.
There is a stark contrast between his confrontational performance work and his pensive etchings. On one hand, Parr’s performance work is visceral, physically demeaning, abrasive and deeply concerned with notions of eliciting strong physical responses as well as cognitive; however, he also focuses on notions of memory and subjectivity.
It is these notions of memory and subjectivity that carry through to his etchings, what is lesser known about Parr is his love of drawing, lines and form. While he was making splashes in the 70’s for his controversial performances, he returned to his love of drawing in the 1980’s.
Parr began print making in 1987 when he was invited to create a print for the Bicentennial Folio (a joint commission of the National Gallery of Australia and the Australian Bicentennial Authority) and he has been creating prints ever since.
This work, Echolalia (The Road) – which can also be found in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia – delves into those notions of memory and subjectivity. “Parr has been fascinated with observation and the possibilities and responses of memory distortions. His ‘landscape’ prints are such depictions – memories of views passed by.” (National Gallery of Australia, n.d.)
Echolalia means a repetition of speech, or in this case, when applied to the notion of the road, the repetition of line can be seen as the landscape rushing past the window of a moving train or vehicle – an idea Parr was interested in – or delving deeper, one could interpret any metaphorical meaning of repetition, and road, in the context of space, time and existence.
Although he is best known for his bizarre, confronting and ground breaking performance works, artworks such as this etching by Parr are rare and coveted by the arts community.
National Gallery of Australia. (n.d.). Mike Parr. Retrieved May 20, 2016, from National Gallery of Australia Website: http://nga.gov.au/landscapes/Par.htm