“Parker’s figures float coolly in ‘night sky’ at 1708 Gallery,” Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Roy Proctor

Ascend into the coolly seductive, eerily beautiful night sky of New Orleans artist Mary Jane Parker at the 1708 Gallery.

You may never want to come down to Earth.

Parker painted her site-specific “Skywatching” in her New Orleans studio in oil on four flexible plywood panels. The panels were assembled to form a semicircular floor-to-ceiling cyclorama in 1708’s back gallery.

Twenty-two nude and headless female figures tumble, cower, float and soar in a dark blue sky in Parker’s unsettling but oddly exhilarating vision.

Each of the figures, arranged mostly in groups, is drawn with small white circles, which are connected by thin white lines in ways that suggest constellations of stars. The constellations are illuminated moodily by 11 lighting instruments on ceiling tracks.

The figures, we’re shown in a chart to the side of the cyclorama, draw their poses from those Char cot, a 19th-century psychologist who studied hysteria, had observed when his patients awoke at night.

“When I ran across these images, I was fascinated by the range of emotion that the pictures expressed,” Parker explains in a statement accompanying her installation.

“When drawing from the poses, I found that where they originally seemed victimized and fragile on their bed, when taken off the flat surface, the figures seemed to be, freed as in flight.”

“Skywatching,” as a whole, “deals with issues of identity, sexuality, emotional needs,” Parker writes.

You’re likely to be overwhelmed, first and last, by the mysteries inherent in the highly theatrical and embracing environment Parker has created.

If Parker ever signs on to create scenery for a dance troupe, the results should be a wow.