“You look up in the sky and it’s one of those things you can’t wrap your head around. It’s so vast,” says Utah native and Taylorsville resident Kent Parsons, whose exhibit “Painting the Cosmos” has been making the rounds around Salt Lake City. He goes on to describe a sense of wonder at the beauty and complexity of space, a sense that inspired him to break out his paint brushes and get to work.
While the fledgling space tourism industry attempts to find its legs and an embattled NASA fights with the Obama administration over its plans to return to the moon, Parsons’ attention seems to be on deeper space. Vividly colorful and grand in scope, his pieces are like Hubble images thrown onto canvas, with a focus on far off parts of the universe that humankind may never reach. There are no intimations of earth’s moon, or Saturn’s rings, or Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Rather, Parsons emphasizes that which is remote, isolated, and mysterious, including such subjects as the Andromeda Galaxy, the Veil Nebula, and our most distant cousins in the Milky Way.
Taking his first art lesson while in his twenties from Frank Erickson, student of the famous Utah landscape painter, LeConte Stewart, Parsons has now been painting for more than 35 years. He has shifted between various styles throughout his career, he says, focusing initially on portraits and eventually moving on to landscapes, still lifes, and most recently to capturing the beauty of the cosmos.
Early in his career he won Best of Show and First Prize awards in contests entered in Davis County. However, competition has never been a primary concern. For Parsons, painting is about the process, not the result. Creating a piece is not about “the failure or even the gain, to be honest with you,” he says. “It’s the experience of the project. That’s what brings the fulfillment.” The artistic journey is a sort of therapeutic vehicle by which is able to lose himself in the activity and enjoy it for its own sake.
However, Parsons doesn’t paint solely for himself. Rather, he hopes that others are able to benefit positively from it. “You don’t just want someone to enjoy it,” he says. “You want someone to have an experience about it, you know, some emotion about it.” Ultimately, however, he only hopes that when others see his work “that they look back on that moment and it brings a smile to their face.”
At almost 60 years of age, Parsons knows that he’s approaching retirement. Currently a full-time employee for the Steiner Education Group, he is the facilities manager and director for campuses in Utah, including the Utah College of Massage Therapy. That can’t go on forever, he says, and he looks forward to being able to devote more time to his painting once he has more hours in the day.
And encapsulating the mysteries of the universe has him ruminating on one other question as well. Extraterrestrial life in the vast expanse of space: Yes or no?
“I can’t be so arrogant as to think that we are the only intelligence in the cosmos that has billions of solar systems and billions of galaxies,” he says candidly and with a surprising degree of passion. “I’m sorry, but there has to be more out there of intelligence than just us.”