Maryanne Parson. This is not upside down. It is a detail of a very large painting, The Ship, that has portions that orient in different directions. It reflects on life in the urban landscape and on the endangered earth.
I am sad to report the death of artist Maryanne Parson, whose large, complex paintings mixed trompe l’oeil surrealism with new age symbolism and personal storytelling. She died last night.
Maryanne, who went to the Academy and Philadelphia College of Art (now UArts), first became known about town for her True Romance comics-inspired menu paintings at Lickety Split, one of the “fern restaurants” that marked the beginning of Philadelphia’s reputation as a food city. The first of her outstanding menu paintings were on blackboard, and included hunky men and bombshell women discussing their angst along with the sauce bearnaise. Eventually, the menus became leather folders, also adorned with Parson’s witty take on romance amid the beefcake.
Eventually her painting turned to erotica of women loving women, inflected with spiritual symbols like crystals, shafts of light and bits of Egyptian cosmology. She displayed the work at women’s festivals–the largest one in Michigan, the Midwest festival, and Sister Space in the Poconos.
Although she displayed the work at those venues, she was a reluctant seller, holding on to the art that was so much a part of who she was and who she loved, including her sometime partner and lifelong friend–my dear friend of nearly 40 years, Millie.
Maryanne also created work that looked out at the world we live in and described her feelings about war, the endangered environment and the visually overwhelming urban landscape.
She never let her admiration for accomplished painting limit her to canvas. When we were in our 20s, Millie and I each had wife-beater shirts decorated with enormous vermillion roses Maryanne had painted on them. And for many years, Millie carried her glasses and her money in leather pouches Maryanne painted. More recently, she painted furniture (I have a chair of hers that I gave to Murray as an anniversary gift) and beautiful boxes, one of which Millie gave me as a gift. Maryanne also painted ceramics with her father. “She put her full force into anything she did. Her ceramics are incredible,” said Millie, who called me early this morning with the bad news.
Her body of work included portraits of toys–almost always with some surreal twist to suggest toys as powerful objects and symbols. She also painted family members, all of these works a reflection of her deep love for her large Philadelphia Catholic family, including her brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and her parents.
Like so many artists, Parson earned a living doing odd jobs. In many ways that was how she wanted it. She was extremely loyal, and she was modest about her art and about the person she was. She always retained a loving, positive energy and spirituality that carried her through, and drew people to her. But her art was her passion, and her work pulsed with ambition and seriousness.