Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Parra Knows Underground Post-Pop Art

It's almost hard to define Pieter 'Parra' Janssen. He's a skater. He's a band member. He's an artist. He's a sculptor. He's a cult apparel designer. And he's self-taught creative whose underground club posters are torn down within minutes of being posted around Amsterdam.

They are not torn down to be tossed. They are torn down to be treasured.

You can still see his work all over the place. Kids wear his shorts and shirts. Store owners protect their paintings and prints. And he only started working in Amsterdam a little more than ten years ago.

On the whole of it, all over Amsterdam, people convey a sense of community pride about his work. It doesn't matter that he grew up in Nijmegen, sometimes affectionately referred to as the dirty south. He calls Amsterdam home. His art has taken root there in every possible way. And his shows, no matter where they are held in the world, always sell out.

He also does commercial work as an art director, but usually only a few lines at a time. Most of them are small lines of clothing and skateboards (sometimes bearing his name and sometimes not), but his larger portfolio includes Nike and Heineken. His signature style has a vintage feel with saturated colors that pop or bleed or melt on whatever canvas needs to be filled.

His approach is casual, usually fast drawing designs from whatever inspires him. Then the designs are scanned, colored, placed, and sold. Perfect, considering he originally started the company with a friend out of necessity and still maintains that the best advice came from his father. Just keep playing.

Parra does do more than draw, but usually he likes to put it on paper first. His sculptures are surreal. And he doesn't always color, smooth, and blend his work as an illustrator. Sometimes he paints. But always with the same bold designs and minimal color combinations. Or sometimes intense black or whites.

He calls all of it fun. But somehow his work still transforms the usual, like a T-shirt, into something much more than it started. If you ask me, it's mostly because he captures emotion in the simplest shapes and forms. The curves carry most of it. And sometimes the names do too.

Some of the shirts I caught at Urban Industry certainly capture the message. The illustrations are named after what they convey, like Annoyed. Sometimes they aren't, like a shirt he called Rockwell but the emotion is hung up. Another, called No, is hung up for another reason.

It doesn't really matter what emotion or scene or point of inspiration he is chasing after. He catches it, with the work being unmistakable. (And almost all of it is produced on 100 percent cotton, organic when available).

According to Parra himself, his art came from growing up with a father who was also a painter and sculptor. So he grew up around colors, paints, weird images, and Rubenesque paintings. The latter refers to the fondness toward the extravagant style characterized by Flemish baroque painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Although the finished work could be considered very different, you can see it in his lines, curves, shapes, and moods.

When added to a minimal color palette, esoteric characters, and poster designs reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s, it can be hard to tear away. Mostly because it's both familiar and new at the same time.

Designs By Parra Round Out A 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Parra is going to be around for some time to come. I was fortunate enough to catch his How Original Show at HVW8 Gallery in Los Angeles. It features some of his more provocative work, which you can glimpse with a time-lapse video of the show.

Like his art, Parra's work isn't always easy to find, especially on apparel. It's not so much that there isn't enough of it. It's the opposite. There are enough individual designs that you pick them much like you might pick a painting. You have to find the one that hits home for you.

You can find Annoyed at Urban Industry, which is located in the United Kingdom but ships worldwide. Most Rockwell by Parra apparel retails between $50 and $120 U.S. Urban Industry has a flat shipping rate, which varies by country. His apparel isn't all that common in the U.S., which adds to the appeal.
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