The Illuminator: Collin Parson

Few people know more about Colorado’s art scene than Collin Parson, who pulls double duty as an artist and the director of the visual arts program at the Arvada enter for the Arts and Humanities

Few people know more about Colorado’s art scene than Collin Parson, who pulls double duty as an artist (and member of Denver’s Pirate: Contemporary Art cooperative) and as the director of the visual arts program at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. In his art, Parson explores the relationships between light, shadow, space and perspective. As a curator, he’s devoted to showing as many of Colorado’s best and emerging artists as he can.

Divided: An Installation at Pirate: Contemporary Art/Photo: Paul Cisze

CH&L: How did you become an artist?
Collin Parson: Maybe it was inevitable. My father is a sculptor and an arts educator, and my mom was a modern dancer. My sister was a performance major in college, and my younger brother is a musician. All my life, we were around artists. At 18, I was trying to rebel against my parents, so I told them I wasn’t going to art school. I was going to study theatrical lighting design. That would show them!

You’re a real renegade.
Right? But as I gained this formal understanding of light, I became more intrigued with light as an artistic medium. Plus, I got tired of working up a design [for a theatre show] and then having the director say, “Nah, we’re going to go this other way.” I started to realize: I can be the director of my own art. Then I was traveling with my dad and saw an installation by [light and space artist] James Turrell, and that’s when it hit me: That’s exactly what I want to do.

Why light?
I’m just fascinated by it. It’s a safe medium. People always find light. We seek it out—long for it. And I love the color and what it can do. It’s not like the pigment in paint. I might even say that it’s more mesmerizing.

Light Scapes exhibition at MicNichols Building/Photo: Wes Magyar

In your artist statement, you quote installation artist Robert Irwin: “The intention of a phenomenal art is simply the gift of seeing a little more today than you did yesterday.” That’s beautiful—and lofty.
Yeah, ‘phenomenal’ is a high standard, I guess. But if an artwork can give someone an experience—even something the artist didn’t intend—and then that person recognizes that they experienced something new, that’s powerful. It’s about learning something new, seeing with fresh eyes. I like the romance of that.

Does that ideal inform your curatorial work, too?
I like to think it does. I’m always trying to give a viewer a new experience, to facilitate that relationship between the viewer and the art.

So how, exactly, did you get this gig at the Arvada Center?
Accidentally! Just kidding—kind of. After college, I was helping my dad install a show here, and the director at the time offered me a part-time job hanging art. Then I just worked my way up. At this point, I’m 31 and I’ve programmed more than 100 exhibitions. Each one is a learning experience.

How does being an artist influence your curatorial work—and vice versa?
You can’t separate them. If someone gave me millions of dollars, I would be an artist and I would curate occasionally. Curating enables me to be an artist. The challenge with being a curator is that a lot of times, creatively, I’m tired when I finally have time to do my art.

Does curating make you more empathetic?
Definitely. There’s a little added respect for the artists, and because I’m an artist, I know the scene, which helps me as a curator. But it’s hard, too—because I’m an artist, it’s hard for me to say no to other artists when I’m curating. Pirate [cooperative art gallery] is important to me because I can take off my curator hat and drink PBRs with the other artists.

How do you keep track of who’s making the most interesting art in Colorado?
I don’t. It’s such a small community, but it’s dynamic. As soon as I feel like I get a grasp of who’s in the community, artists say, “You don’t know So-and-So?” That makes it fun; I’m always discovering new work. I find artists in a bunch of different ways. Some of them I have juried in other shows. Some are from Pirate. Some are recommended by other artists or gallery owners. Like I said, it’s a process of discovery.

Is that what inspires you?
The creative energy inspires me. I’ve realized how important artists are to the world, even if the world may not agree. We value people who solve problems, but all problems start with good questions, and artists and designers are often the ones asking the right questions.

So let’s wrap this up with a good question: What will people see at your exhibition this fall at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center?
They’re going to see some larger existing works, but they will also see a new 16-foot version of the giant circle of light I’ve done in the past. That’s double the scale. I’ve always played with these light boxes. I played with mirrors at my last show at Pirate. For the Colorado Springs show, I’m going to try to play with the two. I want the light to come from the mirrors. We’ll see how it all shakes out. I’m pretty excited about the show. I wasn’t expecting the Center to ask me. The history of the art there plus the mission of the Center—and the museum itself—it’s all just so beautiful.

Bask in the Light
Collin Parson’s latest work will be shown alongside his father’s at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. The exhibit, Continuance: Charles and Collin Parson, opens October 25.

Be Boundless
The Arvada Center’s current exhibition, Unbound, is an artistic masterpiece that includes five enchanting, site-specific installations in the Center’s main gallery space, plus a gawk-worthy series of outdoor sculptures (left). The indoor show ends August 31; the outdoor show runs through September.

See more of Parson’s work and upcoming exhibits at

Categories: Art