Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Matthew Parker: An Appreciation

Matthew Parker: An Appreciation

An artist on his work and living with cancer

Matthew Parker is one of my best art buddies. We met almost 20 years ago when we were festival neighbors, and we’ve set up at dozens of DC-area events since then. Matt makes intricate hand-cut collages of hundreds of photos that he takes of landmarks, neighborhoods, sporting events and more, capturing familiar places in a unique way.

Artist Matthew Parker
Matthew Parker

When he started to make photo collages, Matt drew upon his background as an architect. He credits the curriculum at The University of Tennessee School of Architecture with teaching him to understand a place through “observing, sketching, and looking at the landscape.” His first collages of Washington landmarks included a 2001 study of the Capitol building, photographed on multiple days over three months, in many different lights.

Art by Matthew Parker

He tries to convey what he calls “the poetics of space” by observing a place over time -  days, months, or even years - and bringing together multiple perspectives in a single image. His favorite collages use the motif of light as a throughline. He explains that this 2006 piece, Rush Hour, came about when he was photographing sunsets from the DC side of the Memorial Bridge, reveling in the beauty of the light even as drivers raced by, oblivious. Matt used long exposures to create images of horizontal streaks of light from the cars’ brake lights, echoing the patterns of the sunset.

For a more recent collage of the Jefferson Memorial, Matt photographed the frozen tidal basin in December, capturing the pink and purple tones of the wintry sky, and then again in March and April, when the cherry blossoms were blooming in similar shades. Finally, he collaged the images into a harmonious whole.

For years, Matt has worked hard at both architecture and art, exhibiting at festivals and enjoying road trips with his wife LeaAlice and their two young sons. His life took an unexpected turn in 2018, when Matt was diagnosed with male breast cancer (MBC). He was understandably shocked by the news: less than 1% of breast cancer cases occur in men. Even his experienced oncology team admitted that they had seen only a handful of cases of MBC in their careers.

Scheduled to begin chemotherapy in October 2018, he asked to delay a few days so he could show his work at Art on the Avenue, his favorite art and craft show in Alexandria, VA. His doctors were surprised, “but they respected that,” he says, and they encouraged him to continue making art as he underwent treatment.

Following chemo, surgery, and radiation, Matt’s cancer was in remission by June 2019. Unfortunately, it came roaring back, and in February 2021 he was given a diagnosis of Stage IV cancer: treatable, but no longer curable. For the next two years, Matt was on a regimen of oral chemotherapy, which he describes as “popping a pill once a day, basically living normally” to try to keep the cancer at bay.

Matt’s cancer recurred more aggressively last fall, spreading to his brain, spine and bones, and since then, he has been in what he calls “serious chemo,” which has left him with very little energy, at times unable to walk. He began a course of whole-brain radiation last week.

Now, at age 47 and facing a daunting prognosis, Matt is still making art, whenever he has the energy. “I have a gift of this art that I can do,” he says, “and I rely on it as a coping mechanism.” While he has taken periodic breaks from showing art during treatment, he always goes back, noting that “connecting with customers has been huge – it’s beautiful to hear that people love your work.” He notes that the planning that goes into a festival or exhibition takes his mind off cancer.

“The art has been this thing that helps me to be normal again. I’m going to keep going until I can’t.”

You can find prints of Matt Parker’s photo collages at Locally Crafted in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and on Etsy.