Sculpting a Legacy


By Kimberly Rene’ Vanecek

From the east to the west coast artist and professor, Ray Parish’s sculptures and towering installations have been featured in galleries, museums, and universities in over ten states with a transposition in Berlin, Germany.

Parish’s own college days positioned him at Ole Miss on a football scholarship; however after a series of concussions he shifted to a safer path, the fine arts. “I was exposed to art at a very early age. My uncle attended art school and my grandmother painted. They would show me books on Rembrandt. I was surrounded by modernism so my thinking followed. My sculpture is abstract and I’ve been very comfortable with the nature of my work,” noted Parish.

“I enrolled at UTEP to study art specifically from Professor Parish. I was a self proclaimed musician, never took an art class in my life, but I knew I could draw and build things and I was good with my hands. I was told, Ray would be the one who could mold me, “ noted David Quinn, former student of Parish and current art teacher at El Paso High.

“I once overheard Ray retell of his sudden epiphanies where he described a ‘magic’ that can occur in the simplest of forms. This was a silent, yet deafening communication able to undeniably penetrate the soul of a person willing to see or just look at that object. An object being something that doesn’t even need to have an intended meaning or purpose,” said Quinn.

Twenty-nine years after his educational career started Ray Parish is hanging up his professorial title in sculpture. He leaves UTEP this month after teaching thousands of students over the course for almost three decades. “I tried to impress upon my students the importance to understand the history of art. One should respond to artwork in respect to the context. They relate, one must physically, emotionally, and intellectually connect to their own work,” Parish stated.

Over the years he dabbled in conceptual installations, photographed dissolving parts in the Pacific Ocean, and presented a collection of hay bales in an art museum. “There was just something to be said about the thought of a pristine environment now tainted with by hay,” laughed Ray.

It was during his exploration of several mediums that Parish became exposed to sculpture, his main genre, and began to discover the multiple facets that could be achieved in his works. He experimented with grafting trees, currently a living installation piece in front of the Don Haskins Center; constructed pieces large and small while utilizing cedar, stainless steel, oak and most recently, concrete and steel. “I am obsessed with trailers. In Art In, I took an old camper and pulled everything out of it, revamped it, and then created a live installation with wax people inside and had the television on. It made the viewers feel like they were intruding on something. In Undeterred, I took another steel camper and dropped a piano on top of it, that was great,” he satisfyingly said. There seems to be no size limitation to his projects fabricated steel.

When asked of the legacy he built, he replied, “I am afraid it doesn’t matter what I want to leave. In a couple of years, you are gone and that’s sad, but I am prepared to deal with that. I think I have created an effective arena where students can express, learn, and develop their creations. You can’t teach a person to be an artist, but you can provide the necessary conditions.”

Parish feels he is graduating UTEP with a degree of his own, “I think I covered it all. I brought in artist that needed to know how to express their technical aspects. I’ve nurtured students through commission work and job situations, I have covered the bases, and I will continue to be a part of the BAR. “ Parish refers to the Border Art Residency which was founded in 1997 by Parish, his wife Becky, and in conjunction with the El Paso Community Foundation to help support artist. He designed the program to offer a selected artist a spacious creative living and studio space in La Union, New Mexico. The artist can use his/her specified time at the BAR to cultivate their creative talents.

As UTEP’s spring session closes, so does one door for Professor Parish, yet his path to another avenue allow him greater time to vacation in his favorite spot, Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. “I just love it there. It’s not all day at the beach, believe it or not, I work on projects. I am building a wall right now at our house and inserting blue glass bottles throughout the concrete walls. It’ll stand as an installation of its own,” Parish excitedly says. His story as an educator may end but the knowledge and inspiration he imparted carries on even as he leaves the university.

Photographed by Kimberly Rene’ Vanecek, Peter Svarzbein, and Victor Beckmann