Height of Their Creativity: Parrish Art Museum unveils three Exhibitions by Octogenarian Pioneers

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Artists peter campus, Virginia Jaramillo, John Torreano.

On the surface, peter campus, Virginia Jaramillo and John Torreano don’t seem to have much in common other than their shared, lifelong devotion to art — although the octogenarians each took a different approach.

For campus, the eldest of the trio at age 84, he gravitated toward new media and video art, making his first film in 1971 using portable black-and-white equipment that established him as a pioneer in the art form. Jaramillo, a minimalist who is now 82, creates her paintings from sources that span histories and cultures, while Torreano, the youngest of the group at age 80, emerged as a painter in the late 1960s and has charted his own course ever since, leaning on the universe as his muse.

And yet, through varying media, approach and inspiration, each artist operates from a place of feeling, serving as bellwethers as they enter the sixth decade of their respective careers — now, across three solo exhibitions featuring new, never-before-seen work on view through February at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, according to Chief Curator Alicia Longwell.

peter campus “which way,” 2021 videograph 8:30 minutes, looped. Edition of 3 plus 1 artist’s proof.

“You might think they’re rather disparate in the way they work and the mediums,” Longwell said, “but it all came together with a lot of resonance among what they were thinking about.”

Over the past year spent working in solitude, campus — who stylizes his name and his work in the lowercase — captured locations around the shores of Shinnecock Bay near his home in East Patchogue, stationing his video camera to maintain a static point of view, from a hunter’s duck blind floating on the water and red plastic safety netting entwining a fence to beach grass and sparse leaves blowing in the wind.

In the exhibition “peter campus: when the hurly burly’s done,” nine of the resulting continuous video loops play on separate screens in the gallery, inviting viewers to experience the sublime beauty of both the natural and the ordinary. Each visual meditation underscores the gap between what is perceived, what is recorded, and what the artist brings to the fore.

“You probably picked up from the title he gave the show that there was a good deal of anxiety and uncertainty during this whole pandemic year,” Longwell said, pointing to its origin from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” “You don’t have to be in your eighth decade to be nervous about what’s going on, to feel physically in danger.”

Virginia Jaramillo, “Quanta,” 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 144 in. Image courtesy the artist and Hales, London and New York. © Virginia Jaramillo. Image by JSP Art Photography.

Jaramillo also experienced a surge of creativity during the forced COVID-19 isolation. Of the five new paintings in her exhibition, “Virginia Jaramillo: The Harmony between Line and Space,” she created the majority in her Hampton Bays studio over the past year.

“She’s such an interesting person,” Longwell said, “such an interesting journey she’s had.”

Born in Texas and raised in East Los Angeles, Jaramillo began her career while still an art student and, from 1959 to 1961, she presented alongside established West Coast artists in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Annual Exhibitions — except she used the name “ V Jaramillo” to mask her gender.

In the late 1970s, Jaramillo focused on creating handmade paper and linoleum compositions before returning to painting in the 1990s. Today, scientific theories are at the center of her work, as she explores the communication between quantum particles across the vastness of space in two monumental pieces, “Quantum Entanglement” and “Quanta,” a pair of 12-foot paintings — expansive fields of color criss-crossed by uniform, razor-thin lines — installed face-to-face.

Torreano also reflects on the mysteries and wonders of the natural world, but for him, his interests lie in the cosmos, inspired by images transmitted by the Hubble Space Telescope.

“It’s these clear, extraordinary pictures of explosions and violence and beauty,” Longwell said, “but there is that raw element of what goes on in space — and, of course, thinking about how vast it is, and how could we know what’s going on.”

Combining realism with abstraction, the 10 large-scale paintings in “John Torreano: Painting Outer Space/Inner Space, 1989 to Present” conflate time and space through acrylics on plywood panels, studded with gems and wood balls to convey nebula and stars, or pure abstraction.

John Torreano “Gases in Omega Swan,” 2007. Acrylic, wood balls, and gems on six plywood panels, 108 x 162 in.
Courtesy of the artist.

“They’re extraordinary in the sense that everybody’s looked up at the stars for centuries, starting with Galileo getting a pretty good telescope together,” Longwell said. “It’s the idea of how minuscule we are in the whole scheme of things, the whole universe — however many other galaxies there are, and they’re 160,000 light years away, whatever the heck that means.”

While this final exhibit comprising Torreano’s prior work operates more as a survey, it still ties into the overarching backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not left a single corner of Earth untouched, Longwell pointed out.

“Just to think that we’re one tiny little ball floating around, at the mercy of something we can’t see or feel or touch, that a virus can affect the entire population of this little planet,” she said. “In that sense, to me, he brought home that idea. In a way, I think that all of the work makes us come out of ourselves and think, which is what artists do.”

Three solo exhibitions — “peter campus: when the hurly burly’s done,” “Virginia Jaramillo: The Harmony between Line and Space,” and “John Torreano: Painting Outer Space/Inner Space, 1989 to Present” — will remain on view through February 27 at the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill. On Friday, December 10, at 6 p.m., the public is invited to a talk at the musuem with peter campus, Virginia Jaramillo and John Torreano.

On Saturday, November 20, from 2 to 3 p.m., the museum hosts an exclusive visit to the Hampton Bays studio of Virginia Jaramillo for Giving Circles Members, who are invited to engage in conversation with Jaramillo and other art enthusiasts over a glass of wine. To join or upgrade Parrish membership, contact membership@parrishart.org or call 631-283-2118. For more information, visit For more information, visit parrishart.org.

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