Norman Parish, artist and gallery owner, dies at 75

July 9, 2013

Norman Parish, a painter who opened an art gallery in Washington that spotlighted African American artists at a time when few other galleries concentrated on showing their work, died July 8 at his home in Germantown. He was 75.

He had a brain tumor, his son Norman Parish III said.

Early in his career, Mr. Parish was part of a politically active group of black artists in Chicago. He continued painting after coming to Washington in 1988 to take a job with an environmental company as a computer graphics designer.

With a new artistic focus on lush landscapes inspired by his travels through Western Maryland, Mr. Parish attempted to exhibit and sell his work in local galleries.

“While people generally seemed to like my paintings, no one would show them,” he told The Washington Post in 1996. “Finally, someone told me I should open my own gallery and exhibit my work. I rejected the idea at first. Then I decided it wasn’t so bad and went into business.”


Norman Parish, who died July 8 at age 75, opened the Parish Gallery in Georgetown in 1991. It became one of the country’s best-known black-owned art galleries. (COURTESY OF PARISH GALLERY)

He opened the Parish Gallery in Georgetown in 1991. It became one of the country’s best-known black-owned art galleries, with a focus on works by African Americans and other artists of what is known as the African diaspora.

Mr. Parish gave himself five years to make the gallery a success. Within that time, he was able to give up his day job in computers to devote himself to the gallery, which he operated with his wife, Gwen. After 22 years, the Parish Gallery is still open, now with an exhibition of Mr. Parish’s own paintings.

“At the time, it was unprecedented for an African American to have a gallery in Georgetown,” Juanita Hardy, executive director of the nonprofit arts promotion group Cultural D.C., told The Post last month.

Over the years, Mr. Parish showed the work of more than 170 artists, including such well-known figures as Sam Gilliam, Richard Mayhew, Lou Stovall, E.J. Montgomery and Wadsworth Jarrell.

“He was well-respected nationally,” Jarrell, who met Mr. Parish when they were students at the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s, said Tuesday in an interview. “There will definitely be a void for African American artists because of the number of artists he showed. He gave everybody a chance.”

Norman Parish Jr. was born Aug. 26, 1937, in New Orleans. He grew up in Chicago and was a 1960 graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, where one of his teachers was painter and illustrator LeRoy Neiman, who died last year.

Mr. Parish occasionally painted abstract works, but more often he worked in what he called “stylized realism.” His paintings often have bold colors, with vivid greens, oranges and aquamarine blues. He uses impressionistic and collage-like qualities without abandoning the recognizable, three-dimensional world.

In 1967, Mr. Parish was one of several artists who contributed to the “Wall of Respect,” a mural on the South Side of Chicago that showed images of African American achievement. The building on which the mural was painted was razed in 1973.

In recent years, Mr. Parish turned to painting scenes drawn from his early childhood memories of New Orleans. His artwork is in museums in Chicago and Alabama and in many private and corporate collections.

His first marriage, to the former Shirley King, ended in divorce. Survivors include Gwen Burkett Parish, his longtime partner whom he married eight years ago, of Germantown; three children from his first marriage, Norman Parish III of Oak Park, Ill., Kimberley Parish Perkins of Arlington, Tex., and Malcolm Muhammad of Chicago; his 101-year-old mother, Vierian Parish of Homewood, Ill.; three sisters; one brother; and five grandchildren.

“I wanted to show high-quality art that had been overlooked,” Mr. Parish told The Post in 1996, describing his goal in opening the gallery. “I wanted to give solo shows to people who deserved one but had never had the opportunity.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
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