Seated upright on a chair in the middle of the Senior Seminar studio in the Spencer Studio Art Building, a small wooden creature seems to gaze gently out into space. With a head and torso crafted from slices of a tree stump and jointed limbs elegantly assembled from slender branches and piano keys, this sculpture is both a technical and an artistic triumph. It was created by sculptor Parmalier Arrington ’15, and it lives quietly in her own personal studio space within the Senior Seminar studio.
The rest of Arrington’s studio is filled with a profusion of miscellaneous found objects. Scraps of paper, paint, metal and wood litter the floor and come together to form a number of sculptures. All are reminiscent of the human form, but some are wildly abstract. Along with the peaceful wooden figure, there are sculptures such as a metal figure that looks remarkably like a man lying on his side and a tall figure covered in googly eyes, topped with a flesh-tone painted motorcycle helmet and strung with gutted beanie babies, which Arrington has dubbed her “flesh helmet” sculpture.
Arrington spends a lot of her time collecting found objects to store in her studio and use for her works. “I like the feeling of being able to reuse something or repurpose something and make it into something different or more meaningful, or that may have remnants or memories of its previous use,” she said. Her interests in preserving used objects and representing memory are present in all of her sculptures, which are based on the human form and provide an introspective look into what she and others are made of. “What I am made of is a question that I’ve started asking artists and a couple of other people – mainly professors, a couple of other students – and I’ve gotten various types of responses to that question,” she said. “People have taken it literally: ‘Oh, flesh, blood, bones, chemicals, elements.’ Other people have given more abstract answers.”
While Arrington dabbled in art by taking drawing classes in middle and high school, she considered herself more of a “science person.” However, she eventually found that classes in hard sciences were not for her. “I enjoyed chemistry up until we got to stoichiometry,” she explained, citing her preference for visual, hands-on learning. As for reading, she prefers to do so on her own time, outside the restrictions of a syllabus. “Williams doesn’t exactly offer that freedom unless you make it yourself,” she said. “That can be difficult because Williams is such a demanding place.”
It was only when it came time to declare her major at the College that Arrington realized that studio art classes allowed her to fulfill her desire to create. “Art may not be the most functional major, but in another major I just wouldn’t be happy,” she said. “It seems like a lot of people are not exactly happy at Williams, whether that’s because they’re in a major that they feel was forced upon them or whether there are other factors that contribute to that displeasure. I hope that people like the majors they’re in because if not, why do it? I guess I’m an idealist, but I like when people are happy and to see that they’re doing things that make them happy.”
With even a quick glance at Arrington’s work, it is evident that she loves what she does. Thanks to her interest in combining found materials to make the complex shape of the human form, Arrington has even had to pick up woodworking and welding skills.
Arrington uses her metal figure as a self-portrait of sorts to visualize the eventual process of her own aging, which she injects with a bit of dark humor. “When I’m getting old, there’s gonna be a day when my knees are gonna go and I won’t be able to walk. I’ll fall,” she said. The statue is of a male figure, and she identifies the process of her aging as making her feel like an old man rather than woman. Arrington attributes this in part to her admiration for older relatives. “My grandfather and his brother worked really hard,” she said. “They were dedicated, and I want to be able to mirror that in my life.”
This expression of admiration for her family illuminates an underlying seriousness that drives her works. The torso of the seated wooden figure, for example, is pierced with a number of thin wooden spikes, revealing a darkness that lingers beneath its whimsical beauty. “Life has thrown a number of things at me that have been more injurious than not, such as a number of people in my family dying, namely my mom,” she said, describing the idea behind the piercing spikes. “It hurts that she isn’t here to experience the things that I’m working on.” But while this wooden figure is injured, a delicate sprig of dried flowers emerges from the top of its head, which Arrington describes as possibly representing new growth.
Most of the works in Arrington’s studio will appear in WCMA’s senior art major show. Arrington hopes that viewers will be able to communicate with her works, and she looks forward to letting others get to see a bit of what she’s made of, with darkness and beauty combined. “A lot of them you may not initially understand,” she said, “but if you look, you may be able to empathize with them.”
The theme for this year’s show is “Plead the Fifth.” A reception will take place Friday May 15 from 7 to 9 p.m., and the show will run through the end of finals. Arrington’s works need to be seen in person to be properly appreciated, and it will be infinitely worth it to stop by the show and experience her art in the flesh.