Interview with

Artist & 'Art Freak' Zine Publisher Carol Parks

By Molly Anderson | Posted 2/17/09 | Updated 8/26/23

Carol ParksCarol Parks recorded her first song at the age of six. Her parents were musicians, and she was exposed early on to all that the industry had to offer. She always dreamed of making physical art; music was, in a way, the "family business" — a way to pay the bills, rather than following her true passion.

In the middle of her life, Carol returned to art school, attending both the prestigious Art Center in Pasadena, and Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles. Carol also studied with a number of notable teachers in the Alternative Art field, and at the age of 56, earned her Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts.

Now, she is truly living her dream, and has created a rich, vital second career as an artist, teacher, publisher, and workshop promoter. Her studio and classroom in North Hollywood is a hotbed for new work, up-to-the minute info on the arts scene, and artistic instruction that is unlike anything you've ever seen before. The Queen of Creativity took a little time from her busy schedule to dish the dirt about her dreams with me recently.

Art ZineQ: Art Freak seems like a very unusual and unique zine. Did you publish this zine alone, or as part of a collaboration? What led you to the creation of this exciting publication, and what is your vision for the zine in the coming years?

A: I am older than most of my friends, which is not untypical for my family — we live long. I find that I've seen some things that are just making a resurgence now, that were very popular when I was young. The beat writers used to put out chap books, and blacklisted writers of the time wrote under pseudonyms which allowed them to do what they needed to do and pay the bills.

I've always been fond of galleys and handbills. Then I discovered that the zine had taken on a whole resurgence, with huge symposiums everywhere, Portland, San Francisco…people from all over are creating new zines, from a quarter page folded to elaborate silk-screens, some of the most brilliant art, writing, commentary — not just comics. I became impassioned with the whole new zine culture. I thought, Wow, this is perfect for me, because I'm off the beaten path.

I had wanted to write a book all my life, about anything — I love writing, but I thought, no one will ever publish this. Then, I was reintroduced to the zine and I thought, I can do this myself. Once I started to branch out and take these alternative art classes, I wanted to share the info, talk about these classes and talk about some of the non-conforming ideas and thinkers. You don't need to have letters after your name to say something important.

Spring by Carol ParksMany zines are a shared load, but the first, I did alone. For the second, I worked with only one helper. By the third I had plenty of tools so it was pretty easy with just one helper. My daughter had done a beautiful program for her wedding, and I was inspired by the paper, and Art Freak took a new direction as a folio style zine. I have plans for a design with a universal folio cover. Each issue will have a special insert, and I'll be able to put more things inside; paper samples…I have big plans. The next issue will be published some time in the next three to four months.

Q: You spent fifty years in the music industry before beginning your career in the arts. What led to this change in your creative focus?

Spring by Carol ParksA: My parents were both veterans of the music industry, and I grew up in L.A. Hollywood was my playground. My dad was a big band leader and arranger, and worked with musicians like Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole. I first recorded at the age of six. At the time, I had a dream of creating visual art, but I couldn't figure out how to turn a painting into a sandwich. Singing was not the passion I had, but a way to pay the bills. My daughters are both musical, and they learned the music industry is a lot like the acting industry — it's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

When my marriage ended, I went back to my dream. I was so unhappy for so long and I didn't know why. My home was my art, and it was very undervalued. Until Martha Stewart came on the scene, homemaking was not given any legitimacy. Many housewives live at the poverty level. I was not going to live at the poverty level, and I was not going to be happy anymore in an industry that has no value.

I decided, if I'm going to live the rest of this life, I'm going to do what I want. My mother stepped up to the plate and said, we had no idea that you wanted to do this, but we want to support you. Mom put me through school, paid for my art supplies and travel expenses, and gave me carte blanche to pursue my dream. I developed really quickly; morning, noon, and night, I just ate, breathed, and slept painting, I just worked and worked and worked. I entered a juried show and won for my portraiture, but I wasn't happy with it until I started doing the more abstract and symbolic work.

Why does abstract work for me now, where it didn't before? Before, I couldn't draw, and it informed me all about the masters who abandoned realism because they can. The greatest draftsmen become the greatest abstract artists — Klee, Kandinsky…Klimt could draw with a pencil like it was a photograph. In the Sterling Museum there is a hand drawn opera scene — his skill level for draftsmanship would blow your mind. It looks like a photograph, it's super-real, and the perspective is perfect.

Picasso was a great draftsman, but what got him off was a squiggle here and there. I'm good at realistic painting. I paint now because it impassions me…I am saved by my art, it absolutely saved me from the loss of my community, my marriage. I am now a painter and artist, and…I haven't ever been happy like this; I'm just elated all the time. If you are doing what you love, you have the coping skills to take anything life can throw at you. If you're not, any little straw can break your back.

Q: Your visual art, especially collage, seems to be very tied to and inspired by the written word, or the way text looks on a page. Can you discuss the links between writing and visual art in your work?

A: My favorite artist is Henry Miller, and I have a collection of his letters. He wrote these amazing letters. Letters are such an amazing thing for other artists and authors to read. I use them in my work, in a way…I grew up in a very religious environment. For me to take a photocopy of a Miller drawing or painting, tear it up, and use the pieces in a collage, is a little like taking communion. Taking in the works of my heroes and the people who have informed my work, even if it's just torn up scraps of their photocopied work, is a ritual assimilation. I do a lot with Picasso…I write letters to him, and he writes back. Then, I rip them up and add them to the work, creating many layers so that we are one.

Q: What is your favorite book to curl up with on a gloomy day?

A: The Shell-Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher, tells story of a brilliant artist and his life through the eyes of a child. It is the most visual writing, one sentence in and I am transported to Cornwall; she writes so visually that I'm with her from word one.

Q: What was the most challenging, exciting, or surprising aspect of working with Lisa Sonora Beams to create the designs for her book, The Creative Entrepreneur?

A: The Creative Entrepreneur is a diverse educational book about bridging the gap between the creative and the pragmatic, to try to help artists who are notoriously business lame-os get it together.

She's radically creative, a great painter and writer and so whimsical and precious, with an amazing business education. She has the keys to the business world and can relate that to artists. We started to talk about the need for someone to help the creative person get it together business-wise, and encouraged her to do a workshop, she booked into Hacienda Mosaica in Puerta Vallarta, and she sold three seats, and it wasn't enough to make the workshop worthwhile. She was in trouble, and was considering canceling the whole thing, and I needed a vacation in the worst way. I wanted to help Sonora, and it was cheap, so I went.

I learned so much in that five days that it blew my mind. If it had cost ten times as much, it would not have been enough to pay her. She spoke to me on a level that I absolutely grasped, and I came home revved to the hilt to fix my classroom, grow my business, and I went from hosting three or four workshops a year to over thirty workshops.

Q: How did the Carol Parks Art Foundation come about? What is its mission? What progress have you made? And what are your hopes for the future of the foundation?

A: Every year we hosted gatherings, and created a valentine exchange by mail, but it seemed like a waste of women to get together and not make something of it, so we decided I'd auction off a painting a year, and try to put together money to support various and sundry art-related events. We sent cases of art supplies to children in Africa, and supported projects to benefit homeless kids. There will come a time, through the foundation, where I will support obscure artists and give them the tools they need.

People think art is a luxury, but it's not. It's right up there with food and water, to pick up a pen and make your mark.

Q: What was the biggest challenge for you in changing careers mid-life and going back to school? How did you cope and stay sane during this transition?

A: It is very hard for anyone to buck the establishment. Jesse Reno is the concrete example of a man who does nothing by the book. He's a total radical success as a painter, and he made it up as he went along. The hardest challenge was getting over the belief that I had to do it a certain way — and even if I did, the odds were against me. That's just a lie. There are plenty of new ways to make a living in the arts.

The other challenge was ageism. I work a triple shift every day, and I don't have an old cell in my body. I was told time and again that I was too old, or didn't look the part… never mind any of these ideas. During this time, my art kept me sane. If you are impassioned by your work and you want to do your work, you will find a way to do it — that's the bottom line. Anything else is a lie.

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