Sun Sentinel on Kenton Parker
Words by Phillip Valys
For Kenton Parker, love means having to say you’re sorry with 16 bouquets of fake flowers.
There they sit in potted plants – faux drooping tulips and full-bloom orchids – inside Parker’s flower stand, where the artist has woven romance and apologies to all the ex-girlfriends he’s ever loved and devastated. Titled “Always Sorry,” the freestanding installation, about the size of a broom closet, is planted in the center’s main gallery. The shop’s white-painted wooden frame is pockmarked with dents and chips, its windows stained with dirt. Kitschy ceramic cat statues top wooden milk crates. Trowels and hammers hang on the walls next to a used dog collar. A column of live cacti runs along the spine of the building’s roof.
For Parker, there’s zero ambiguity about the phony flowers: They represent doomed, superficial relationships. He blames himself for all of them.
“I would constantly be screwing up and giving women flowers, always being in the f—– doghouse,” Parker, 48, says. (He currently has a girlfriend.) “I have this ability to speak in long sentences, faster than my head and heart can keep up. I’ll be upset with someone and apologize to them in the same sentence, but most people can’t accept your apology that quickly. I mean, that’s not how people work.”
A wiry California native who likes to speak in rapid-fire sentences laced with expletives, Parker is busy this week installing the two centerpieces of his new solo show “Everything Counts in Small Amounts,” opening Friday, June 10. The flower shop, when finished, will be joined by another freestanding building: “My First Kiss,” a lyric little shack of a treehouse on raised cinder blocks. A sanctuary to teenage romance, Parker says the treehouse is just large enough for two people to crawl inside, lay supine and gaze up at the “stars,” shown on a video screening on a flat screen TV anchored to the ceiling.
“It’s a storybook treehouse. Kids or adults can come inside and draw on the walls,” says Parker, who bought live cocoons of monarch butterflies from Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, which will hatch inside the treehouse during the exhibition’s run.
The treehouse, which first debuted at Soho Beach House in Miami Beach during Art Basel 2014, wasn’t always a place for innocent adolescence. Visitors that year treated the space like a VIP champagne room, scrawling graffiti on the walls, having sex, smoking weed.
That’s how Parker prefers his life-size rooms to be used. An Army brat who bounced around from South Korea to San Diego to Fort Benny, Ga., as a teenager, Parker found stability as a nightclub promoter. During his twenties, he threw invite-only parties for San Diego’s nightlife elite, building decorations such as flying dragons and go-go dancing cages. Once, in the 1990s, he installed a fake taco stand in the center of a nightclub. Parker witnessed people ducking inside to snort cocaine.
Parker’s freestanding sculptures owe a debt to Robert Rauschenberg’s ready-mades, in which the pioneering artist took everyday objects and combined them into art.
“This is a kid-oriented show, but so much of my work is debaucherous,” Parker says of this exhibition. “These installations are 3D versions of my feelings. It’s a f—— journalistic diary of my life. I’m a very sensitive person, so my personal life is wrapped up in these places. The dog collar in the flower shop belongs to Lucky,” his boxer-ridgeback mix of 17 years, whom he says he had to euthanize the day before a recent art show opening.
Parker’s paintings and drawings, which are also autobiographical, will decorate the walls of the Hollywood center’s main gallery. Many are untitled, but include his mother’s quilt showing his family home next to the Sutter Buttes, a cluster of mountain-like peaks and knobs in Sacramento Valley, Calif. In other drawings, made with oil stick and crayon, Parker depicts California’s recent forest fires in abstract swirls and circles.
“There’s this living quality to all of the works, like an ongoing story,” says Books IIII Bischof, whose Miami Design District gallery, Primary Projects, represents Parker. “You see his heart in all of his works.”
In a separate gallery, Parker will draw paper greeting cards, and suspend them on clothesline for visitors to take home. Parker wants patrons to create their own greeting cards on paper, then crayon the room’s walls the same way they would the walls of his treehouse.