Norman Parish opened his gallery in 1991 in Georgetown's secluded Canal Square complex of galleries, restaurants and offices with the idea of focusing his exhibitions primarily on paintings, works on paper and sculpture by African American and African artists.
He has succeeded admirably, organizing strong shows in the gallery's single, large room by big-name American artists such as Lois Maillou Jones, Lorenzo Pace and John Scott, as well as Esther Mahlangu, an acclaimed Ndebele painter from South Africa. The gallery's prices range from several hundred dollars to around $40,000.
Although he emphasizes art inspired by African culture, Parish also shows work by artists from other ethnic backgrounds. And he has proved to be one of a handful of gallery owners in Washington willing to give exhibitions to relative unknowns, such as Alex Bay, a Virginia-based artist who built a small cottage in the Canal Square courtyard in 1996 for his interactive installation titled "Canaletto's House."
"The landlord nearly flipped over that," says Parish, who was born in New Orleans, raised in Chicago and graduated with a degree in painting from the Art Institute of Chicago. "But it brought a lot of people down here." Such shows have not always been commercially successful and their quality has been inconsistent, but they have boosted the artists' careers and livened up Georgetown's art scene.
An accomplished painter, Parish has also shown some of his free-flowing, figurative work, which is heavily influenced by the sites and sounds of his birthplace. That emotional connection to New Orleans has brought some prominent Louisiana-based artists, such as Dr. Samella Lewis, to his gallery.
Unlike many other gallery owners, Parish, a jazz buff, is friendly, low-key and often has the stereo on in his establishment, playing jazz giants like John Coltrane, Johnny Hartman and Dexter Gordon. On occasion, the sights and sounds form one harmonious groove.
-- Ferdinand Protzman