Peter Parpan started listening to his muse in 2011 when he quit his day job and started making art full time in Asheville. He moved into The Fanger art studio and says that he couldn’t bear to think of going back to school. “I wanted to stay in the studio,” Peter says. “I quit teaching and started working in the studio and I saw my friends—Shawn Oldham, Sean Pace, Gabriel Shaffer—they’re full-time artists. They get work. It may not always be just making a piece of fine art and selling it, but they get cool jobs doing creative things for people.
He grew up in New York. His father was a graphic designer. His father’s mother was an artist. “I remember when I was seven or eight, taking my comic books and copying the covers as best I could, and taking baseball cards of players that I liked and copying their portrait,” Peter says. “I remember doing that when I was young and that’s when I started drawing. I couldn’t think of anything else that I would be able to do in life except that. I always wanted to do that.”
Peter now works to complete a two-story studio in his back yard. “I do woodworking and I also work with paint and with computers, and wood dust doesn’t mix with paint or computers, so I kind of needed to have two separate spaces,” Peter says. “Downstairs is going to be my machine room and then when you go upstairs it’s going to be a carving bench, then you go through a door and there’s going to be a clean room and I’ll have my computer and paintings set up and my drafting table. I’ll do all of my design work out of that room.”
You can see his work downtown and in West Asheville. He’s done sign work for Forever Tattoo, Hot Stuff Tattoo, and LaZoom. He painted the rooftop, and constructed the cabinets at Short Street Cakes. He also painted the Play Everyday mural (with Hanna Dansie) on that same block of Haywood Road.
“My friend Jody owns a cake shop and two doors down it looked like Detroit. It was a nice spot to do a mural. It’s an interpretation of a poster from the ’80s that says ‘Play Everyday’ and it’s got kids with afros in a schoolyard that are jumping rope with bell-bottoms on. It’s really rad. It says ‘Play Everyday’ but then there’s a handball court behind them that has that exact same mural pattern on it, but in different colors.” Both the owner of the cake shop and Hanna Dansie owned a copy of this poster, coincidentally.
The sign work inside of Hot Stuff Tattoo is a Peter Parpan original. Peter says that he’s really proud of that work because there was a lot of pressure. “(Hot Stuff owner) Danny Reed showed me the work of one of the best hand-painted sign painters in the country and said ‘this is what I want it to look like,’” Peter says.
As a full-time artist, Peter explains that all his dreams are coming true. “And now I’m kind of feeling a lot of pressure because here’s life giving you everything you asked for,” he says. “What am I going to do now?”
To answer his own question, Peter emphatically states, “I want to make art!” He further explained: “I love some of the jobs I’ve been doing. But then there’s a lot of work I get to survive. I’m done with making picture frames and shelves, so my goal now is to try to still do the signage jobs and really creative jobs like the LaZoom Bus, but I’ve got to move into making art and selling art, which I’ve never been successful at. I think of myself as an artist, and I guess other people around town do, too, but I don’t sell any art.”
Peter has shown his paintings at Push Gallery, Battle Cat, and The ARTery. “You can’t really sell this kind of art in this town,” he says. “People that make it are the people that sell to tourists landscape paintings of the Blue Ridge Mountains and pottery that’s not really modern—ugly pottery.”
In order to make a living selling paintings, Peter plans to concentrate on a large body of work that’s consistent to market to galleries in bigger cities. “They keep talking about downtown becoming more of a cosmopolitan city,” he says. “I don’t mind that. I don’t mind big crazy hotels coming in. It’s good for me trying to survive in this world.”
And Peter does have a hand in making downtown feel more like a city. He’s working on a rooftop mural with Ian Wilkinson, the director of the Asheville Mural Project. “I believe it’s an 80 x 16 foot tall wall on a rooftop overlooking 240 in downtown.” It’s part of the “Love Asheville Go Local” campaign.
He’s also curating a show at Satellite Gallery in May of 2013. He’ll be showing with Alli Good, Tara Jensen, Andy Herod, Joti Marra Ramsey, and Nick Turkette.
View his artwork online and find out more about Peter peterparpan.net.