If you were to ask a young adult what their definition of validation looked like, they would probably describe a sensation similar to a quick text back. You can not blame them either, as most of us do not know how to carefully examine our relationships with intimacy without the mention of modern technology.
In a world dominated by digital imagery and virtual connections, artist Joseph Parra’s latest exhibition in Montclair State University Galleries, the edge of flesh and blood, challenges viewers to examine the boundaries of validation and intimacy through the lens of a screen. The exhibition delves into the consequences of seeking affirmation in the digital realm, questioning how desire changes when life is mediated through screens.
Megan C. Austin, the director of curation at Montclair State, shared her passion for coordinating exhibitions that resonate with students and challenge them to interpret artwork deeply.
“I think a lot about utilizing the artwork as a jumping off point, sort of like a catalyst for conversation, and that way, it’s not just the art for the art students or the art just for the students of humanities, but it’s also the art for the computer science major or the art for the nursing major,” Austin said.
Her approach to curation is a holistic one, rooted in the belief that art has the power to engage and inspire. It is about making art accessible to everyone and creating spaces for dialogue and visual literacy. The gallery’s intention is to continue the exploration of themes that engage artists and the community.
One of the exhibition’s central themes, denial, serves as a captivating thread throughout the interview. Jesse Bandler Firestone, the creative force behind selecting artists for the exhibition, emphasized the importance of being tied to the audience through theme. Through his efforts, the distinct nature of the students and faculty are able to guide the curatorial choices.
Both Austin and Firestone see curatorial work as an act of service, catering to the needs of both the artist and the specific audience at Montclair State.
“This is a place where artists can try different things within their practice or things they may not have been able to do before,” said Firestone.
Parra introduced his work at an informal meeting at the fall 2023 Opening Exhibition opening on Sept.14, 2023, at Alexander Kasser Theater. Parra enjoys how his paintings’ acrylic textures reflect an optimal ambiance in the theater lighting, and within this instance, one can interpret how his artistry is influenced greatly by advanced technical features and passion.
It is soon learned that Parra discovered his passion for art at a very young age, thanks to the opportunity to attend an arts middle school and high school. His artistic and educational journey took him to various locations including Baltimore and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, an artist residency program that he referred to as “probably the best time of my life.”
Parra’s artwork in the edge of flesh and blood isolates the male human body through torsos, arms and chests in what appears to be colorful, dystopian places. This placement is a conscious choice that invites viewers to explore how society perceives and commodifies masculinity. He embraces the plastic, almost artificial appearance of acrylic paint, as it complements the superficial and digitally enhanced realities he displays in art.
He noted how his art appears to people first entering the gallery, stating how it stimulates the viewer’s consciousness.
“By making it three-dimensional in my painting process, which came later, I kind of want to emphasize the importance of seeing the artwork in person and how different it is when you see it online,” said Parra. “Just as the projections of ourselves that we have on social media are different from how we are in reality.”
While he clarified that his art is not quite erotic, it does break free from the conventional representations often found in public society.
“I like the plastic kind of fake appearance of acrylic paint,” Parra said. “I like how that plays into this superficial aspect [of digital imagery].”
Parra expressed a desire to continue challenging conventional artistic norms and finding new ideas and concepts that push boundaries. The glossy nature of his artwork combined with its visual complexity, elicits a desire for physical interaction. The further blurring of the lines between the traditional boundaries of art and the observer is very reflective of the average individual’s relationship with social media.
Parra’s exhibition the edge of flesh and blood emphasizes how our digital perceptions of self-image extend further than our screens or a text back. Each stroke of paint, each meticulously crafted dot and each carefully chosen subject matter becomes a gateway to thought-provoking conversations on social media. Parra advised young talents to continue challenging traditional norms in this way, openly inviting discourse about societal values, digital culture and self-perception. He further emphasized the importance of finding happiness in one’s work.
When asked about future plans, he mentioned continued advertisement for his current exhibition and the creation of new pieces for an upcoming group show. Only the best can be expected of Parra as his exhibition, available now until Dec. 1, 2023, remains a dynamic force capable of inspiring change within the campus of Montclair State.