Dennis Parker was born on New Year’s Day 1954 in Oklahoma City. He had always liked to draw. Early drawing memories are actually some of his earliest memories. While growing up, his father was a music director for their church and his mother was either playing the piano or organ. During the services, this left young Dennis to amuse himself quietly drawing on the church programs, keeping him still and out of trouble.

Once during the service, he crawled on his stomach on the slick floor from almost the back of the auditorium to the front under the church pews. After his father spotted him under the front row pew from the choir, his mother and grandmother made sure they always had enough paper to keep young Dennis out of trouble.

His aunt, who was a commercial artist, was the first to expose him to painting by buying a set of acrylic paints for Christmas when he was 14. His mother soon bought an easel and a paint box and always remained supportive in his art.

At the age of 16, while still in high school, he moved into his grandmother’s small house where he was able to turn the spare bedroom next to his into his first studio. In his senior year, he started painting class at night with Richard Goetz, an accomplished artist and a former instructor at the New York Art Students League.

The following summer Dennis started attending classes at the University of Central Oklahoma, at the same time he was offered an apprenticeship with Mr. Goetz, where he continued his art education for the next three years.

At the age of nineteen, Dennis got his first German Shepherd (that would be a life long tradition) and started his own art classes on Saturdays in art supply stores to children in and around the Oklahoma City area. A year later, he would find himself teaching adults 2 nights during the week days.

With his newly acquired painting skills, and his ability to communicate with his students, teaching provided him with the means to continue his art education.

This is the same time that Dennis started traveling during the summer months to paint out on location. Teaching during the winter was good, but not good enough to be gone for 3 months at a time without an income. So for the next 2 years summer adventures were spent going to art museums, playing with his dog, painting out of doors, and living in his mid-size Chrysler. The back seat was removed to make the bed and by staying in the car was the only way Dennis could afford to make his summer trips.

In the summer of 1975 on a painting trip, that would find Dennis and his dog living out of his car for 91 straight days, an event was about to happen that would change Dennis’s paintings forever.

On the way back to Oklahoma from California he went to Sedona, Arizona, to find an art gallery to represent him. Based on the paintings that he had in the car, the Hayloft Gallery agreed to handle his work. However, they also wanted some paintings portraying some of the local landscapes.

While painting just off the highway next to Oak Creek a man stopped to look at the painting in progress. After looking at the painting he asked Dennis who had taught him to paint. The conversation went on and the man introduced himself as Joe Beeler. Said that his studio was just down the road and he had some information that would probably help the painting. Dennis knew of the famous cowboy artist, one of the founders of Cowboy Artists of America, so Dennis quickly packed his stuff in his car and followed Joe to his studio close by.

In the studio, Joe put Dennis’ almost finished painting in a chair and propped it up as if it were on an easel and very politely asked if he could put a few color notes on it. Took about two minutes to put two color notes next to each other in the foreground, then the middleground, and then the background. Joe asked Dennis if he had noticed what had happened. Dennis had seen it immediately, the painting now had distance and depth. Joe then showed Dennis on his own paintings how values could be used to control form and eye movement across the paintings. This was to be what Dennis considered the most important change in his painting and it only took two minutes.

Dennis had been trained in impressionism where the values are secondary or not even acknowledged in the painting process. A value (which is the lightness and darkness of a color) is not an important element to an impressionist because it can restrict the creativity and interpretation of the color. In impressionism it’s all about the color being the dominant element.

Now being conscience of values and what they would do, Dennis’s paintings were moving in a direction that was personally more pleasing and challenging to him. Information on values also made teaching different and more successful. The change also took form as a brand new factory custom 1976 van to paint in and the ability to stay in a motel now and then on his summer trips.

In 1977, Dennis and a friend from the Goetz art school decided that if they could each save $1,000 that it would be enough to take an art trip that had been almost two years in the planning. The purpose of the trip was to visit as many art museums as possible and end up at pre-enrolled classes at the New York Art Students League for first of September.

In August they would leave from Oklahoma to Chicago, then east to Washington D.C., up the coast to Canada and back down to New York City to start classes in September. Dennis was enrolled in two day classes and two night classes, a total of 11 hours of classes per day, 5 days a week. His traveling companion found a roommate in the city, and Dennis would stay with his van in the back yard of a friend’s house in East Orange, New Jersey, where he would commute in to classes.

Instructors included artists David Leffel, Daniel Green, and Frank Mason. Dennis considers this trip that most important and meaningful painting adventure to date. He feels the exposures to the museums and the instruction he received, defined him as an artist. He says many amazing experiences happened on that 4 month trip, one of them was driving into Oklahoma City realizing after all that had happened, he had only $5 and some change left in his pocket.

Dennis would continue to make more trips to New York City to study at the League and also attend the New York Academy of Art. These trips would always be combined with painting trips to New England. Taking workshops would also play a big part in his education. This would lead him to artist Albert Handel whose influence and friendship would be a valuable asset.

Today, Dennis is a national award winning artist. He continues to demonstrate and teach, however his third generation paint van hasn’t seen much action recently. With painting trips extending into Europe and living so close to some of his favorite painting subjects, he prefers his small 4 wheel drive to take him painting rather than the converted box van.

Santa Fe is a place with plenty of history, culture, and art. Its beauty changes with the seasons, drawing artists from all over and Dennis, in the past, has been one of them. Since his first painting trip in 1973, he has made Santa Fe one of his most frequented painting locations. Now instead of taking a 10 hour drive from Oklahoma, he’s there.

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