Friday night, local painter Tell Parris will roll out a series of paintings based on the dystopian action film “Mad Max.” But he insists the exhibition is not an intentional commentary on current events.
“I started it before everything started happening with Russia and North Korea,” he said. “It’s a really interesting time right now. We haven’t seen anything like it since the Cold War.”
It’s fitting then, that the exhibit will be hung in the Grid, a bar/arcade that celebrates the 1980s heyday of pinball and arcade games. “Negapocalyptic Teenage Wasteland” will be unveiled as part of Friday’s installment of Arts Night Out, the bimonthly pop-up art event that turns Old Town storefronts into temporary art galleries and performance spaces.
For Parris, it’s important to balance image and message.
“It’s more important to say something than to draw pretty pictures,” he said. “A lot of my old work was more in your face. Now I’m getting back to drawing pretty pictures, but I’m still trying to say something.” A native of Wichita, Kan., Parris decided to pursue art while attending Wichita State University. He started out in graphic design but hit a roadblock at his sophomore review. He had to present his portfolio to a faculty panel that would decide if he could continue in the program.
“They said I had a poor work ethic,” Parris recalled. “I couldn’t keep doing graphic design, but I had already fallen in love with art.”
He ended up earning a degree in studio painting. After college, he bounced around, including a brief stint in the Army and some time in west Texas as a firefighter.
“I was a volunteer firefighter in Wichita,” Parris said. “My aunt told me there was an oil boom in Texas, and all the firefighters were leaving to work on the oil rigs, so they needed firefighters. I thought I’d give it a shot.”
In the years after college, Parris had trouble finding time to paint, stopped for about five years, and started up again about two years ago.
In the middle of last year, Parris decided the firefighter life wasn’t what he wanted. So he and his wife moved to Leslie, where his wife grew up. He works as a welder and painter at H&H Welding in Mason.
Parris describes his style as “neo-pop street art.” His work draws on pop culture elements, especially that of the ‘80s, looking for underlying messages.
“I’m white, middle class, raised on Disney,” he said. “I’m poking fun at that, but I’m also trying to dig out the hidden elements of it. I won’t call it mind control, but they’re definitely pushing a worldview. From kids’ shows to CNN, everybody has an agenda.”
Arts Night Out 5 p.m. Friday, May 5 FREE Old Town, Lansing (See website for participating locations) (517) 372-4636, myartsnightout.com