- Also known as
primary name: Parr, Mike
- individual; printmaker; sculptor/medallist; Australian; Male
- Life dates
- Text from Stephen Coppel, 'Out of Australia: Prints and Drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas', with a contribution by Wally Caruana on Aboriginal prints, BMP, 2011.
Mike Parr is a performance artist, draughtsman and printmaker. Born in Sydney, he was brought up on the border of Queensland and New South Wales where the family struggled to survive on a small dilapidated farm. His younger sister is the artist photographer Julie Rrap. He was awarded a scholarship to study arts and law at the University of Queensland, Brisbane in 1965-66 but dropped out and moved to Sydney. Although he briefly attended classes at East Sydney Technical School in 1968, he never formally trained in art.
Born with a severely deformed left arm, he determined to pursue his career as an artist against the established art system and to do so on his own terms. In 1970 he held his first dealer solo exhibition, 'Light Pieces and Painted Constructions', at David Reid Gallery, Brisbane in which he staged a critique of the prevailing avant-garde aesthetic of colour-field painting. His second solo show within a commercial gallery space only took place fifteen years later when he was aged forty. In 1970 he founded with Peter Kennedy the independent artists' space, Inhibodress, in inner Sydney, which ran as a co-operative gallery for artists outside the commercial system. Although it only continued for two years, Inhibodress provided Parr with a forum for his conceptual pieces and for his engagement with an audience which characterised his performances during the 1970s. Parr's filmed performances were dominated by himself and drew attention to his disability, sometimes in violent ways. In 1977 he shocked his audience by suddenly chopping off his fake left arm which had been filled with meat and blood. In the same year he performed his vomit pieces, entitled 'The Emetics' ('Primary Vomit') 'I am Sick of Art' ('Red, Yellow and Blue'), at Watters Gallery, Sydney.
From the early 1980s, disillusioned with performance art and by what he regarded as the 'photodeath' of its representation in film, Parr began to make large charcoal drawings of himself. He uses the self-portrait head to address questions of identity and representation. By obsessively repeating the image of his head, Parr establishes it as his own language. A constant preoccupation since the early 1980s, the 'Self Portrait Project' has resulted in thousands of works, some of them presented in the form of installations. Since 1987, when he first began to collaborate with the printer John Loane, printmaking has assumed a principal position in his 'Self Portrait Project'. Between 1987 and 2000 Parr produced over 1,000 prints with Loane, mostly in etching, drypoint and aquatint. He has also made large woodcuts. In 1990 the National Gallery of Australia mounted an exhibition of his prints as a work in progress. In 2006 the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney held a retrospective of his prints which also included videos of his earlier performances. In recent years Parr has returned to extreme performance to highlight the voiceless impotence of asylum seekers held in remote detention centres by the Australian government: on 15 June 2002 he had his lips, nose and ears sewn together in his performance 'Close the Concentration Camps'. As well as his first print made in 1987 (1988,1210.41), the British Museum holds 'The Psychopathic Family', 1995, a multiple-sheet print comprising of twelve large drypoint and sugar-lift aquatint etchings, which was given by the artist and John Loane of the Viridian Press in 2001. The National Gallery of Australia owns over 450 prints as well as artist's books, drawings and films of his performances. He is also well represented in the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales and other state galleries.
- David Bromfield, 'Identities: A Critical Study of the Work of Mike Parr 1970-1990', Nedlands, Western Australia: University of Western Australia,  (monograph); David Bromfield, 'bloodyidiotparrofcourse', exh. cat., Sydney College of the Arts Gallery, 2001 (prints from 'The Self Portrait Project 1987-2001'); Roger Butler (ed.), 'Prints by Mike Parr', exh. cat., with two letters from the artist and a note from the printer John Loane, Canberra: Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National Gallery, 1990; Ashley Crawford, 'Mike Parr Interviewed', 'Art Monthly Australia', no.153 (September 2002), pp. 13-15; Rachel Kent, 'Volte Face: Mike Parr Prints and Preprints 1970-2005', exh. cat., Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2006; Cathy Leahy, 'Spitting and Biting: Ten Contemporary Artists and the Print', exh. cat., Melbourne: Monash University Gallery, 19 September-28 October 2000