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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Roberto Parada

Roberto Parada--expressive portraits

After nearly five years writing about art on a daily basis, encountering artists using just about every medium, every style, from every country, every era, and every philosophy, I've started to get a little jaded. More and more I find it takes more and more to impress me. The really big names in art I've already written about, some of them in considerable detail. I'm now down to writing about merely interesting artists, whose art is worthwhile, though not necessarily the stuff of great masterpieces. I'm also fascinated by artists from the past whose life and work have a message to impart to modern day artists. And in rare cases, I also enjoy highlighting some of these modern-day artists, living and working today who, though they are far from household names, one day, probably will be considered "big names." Being a portrait artist, it takes a lot in the way of portraiture to impress me. The American artist/illustrator Roberto Parada impresses me.

Bill the billionaire, up close.
Caricature or portraiture?
Bill Gates, Rolling Stone Magazine,
Roberto Parada
Roberto Parada
Roberto Parada is young--probably one of the youngest artists I've ever written about. He was born in 1969, a native of North Arlington, New Jersey, a New York City bedroom community straight out of the 1950s. He gravitated to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where he graduated in 1991. Almost immediately he took up a career in "editorial Illustration" which is a glorified term for political cartooning, though Parada's work rises so far above the typical pen and ink stereotype as to very much deserve the glorified designation. It begs the question, when does political art cease being caricature, and instead reach the level of portraiture? Parada's oil painting of Bill Gates for Rolling Stone Magazine (above, left) and the close-up detailing his technical prowess (above, right) gets to the heart of the matter. I termed his work "expressive portraiture." Parada calls it “pop art illustration influenced by European masters of painting.” I guess the difference is, I simply gave the style a name. Parada defines it.

President elect, Barack Obama,
2008, Roberto Parada
President re-elect, Barack Obama,
2012, Roberto Parada
There is nothing new about expressive portraiture. Picasso might well be said to have invented it, but any number of expressionists since then had dabbled in such portraiture, usually expressing mostly themselves rather than their subject. Parada sublimates self to the character and personality of his subject. Gates appears proud, good-humored, perhaps a bit cocky, and very much the 21st-century iconic billionaire. Perhaps nothing better illustrates the expressive nature of Parada's portraits than his two paintings of President Barack Obama (above), his 2008 President elect (above, left) and his 2012 portrait of the President re-elect (above, right). I won't get involved in characterizing the differences--they're all too obvious. Parada has managed to capture the changed man in his expressive portraiture--the differences four years can make.

Jon Stewart, Roberto Parada
Clint Eastwood, Roberto Parada
Parada portraits have not been limited to political figures. He has also been called upon to paint figures from the sports world, entertainment, history, media personalities, even religious works. Parada's portrait of Clint Eastwood, (above, left) captures the "new" Eastwood, older, wiser, directing, rather than acting. His portrait of TV comedy anchorman Jon Stewart presents the deadpan countenance of a working journalist/pundit who just happens to be funny. Sometimes the job calls for Parada himself to be funny, hearkening back to traditional political cartooning as in his Children at Play (below, left) for Vanity Fair Magazine dating from the (G.W.) Bush era. On a more serious note, Newsweek magazine commissioned Parada to illustrate its article Leave the Church, Follow Jesus (below, right).

From the G.W. Bush era,
Children at Play, Roberto Parada
Leave the Church, Follow Jesus,
Newsweek, Roberto Parada
From the world of entertainment, we find Parada painting three of the biggest icons from "pop" music in a Pop Art montage featuring Bruce Springsteen, Elvis, and Bob Dylan, once more for Rolling Stone (below, left). Parada's Jerry Garcia (below, right) might well grace the next Grateful Dead album.

Jerry Garcia and friend, Roberto Parada
Parada's Pop Art pop music icons,
Springsteen, Elvis, and Dylan.
Although it's not his specialty, Parada also does paintings in his same masterful style for product ads. His Fromm Gourmet Pet Food images (below left and right) of chef's masquerading as dogs and a cat delivering room service are not only eye-catching, as well as effective advertising, but easily fall into the real of kitschy fun/funny art as well. Parada began his career working in acrylics, colored pencil, and watercolor but was persuaded by fellow illustrator and friend, Tim O'Brien, to try working in oils. He did, and though his work improved and the demand for it grew, the change almost led to his death. In 2003, at the age of thirty-three, Parada was diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anemia (bone marrow failure) likely caused by the use of benzene (a brush cleaner). After many transfusions, and hovering near death for several months, a bone marrow donor was found. The transplant was successful, and today Parada is active in promoting he manufacture, marketing, and use of safety tested artist's materials. Since his brush with death, Parada has returned to painting portraits of presidents, politicians, poodles, pop stars--more than just a political cartoonist but an "editorial illustrator" painting expressive portraits.

Room Service, Fromm Gourmet
Cat Food, Roberto Parada.
French Poodle, Fromm Gourmet
Dog Food, Roberto Parada.
A book cover commissioned by Harper Collins
--2,500 years of history unzipped


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