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 Robert Miles Parker  (1939 - 2012)

About: Robert Miles Parker


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Lived/Active: New York/California      Known for: urban landscape ink drawings, portrait and still life painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist:

Robert Miles Parker, Artist and Preservationist, Dies at 72
Published April 27, 2012

Robert Miles Parker, an artist and preservationist whose pen-and-ink drawings of urban landscapes displayed a whimsical delight in storefronts, apartment buildings, houses and theaters, died on April 17 at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood where he could often be found working at a makeshift drawing board in a lawn chair on the sidewalk with a pet Norfolk terrier on a leash sitting patiently beside him. He was 72.

His partner, David Van Leer, said the cause was undetermined, adding that Mr. Parker had been treated for numerous ailments since he learned he had AIDS more than two decades ago.

Though Mr. Parker also painted in oils — portraits and floral still lifes as well as cityscapes — it was his pen-and-ink work of aspects of Manhattan’s architectural profile that garnered the most attention. Lively and reverently joyful, representational but far from architecturally precise, his drawings were shown frequently in both private galleries and public places, including the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library and the Museum of the City of New York.

The Upper West Side: New York, a book of Mr. Parker’s drawings of buildings, street scenes and cityscapes, along with personal commentary, was published by Harry N. Abrams in 1988.

Most recently Mr. Parker was known for his drawings of Broadway theaters, both their facades and their interior details, portraying the handsome intricacies of their designs with suggestive loops and squiggles, a kind of controlled capriciousness.

They demonstrated the evolution of work that had grown more fanciful over the years. Beginning in the 1980s, making his way through more than 30 Broadway theaters, Mr. Parker made well over 200 drawings, like those of the Shubert on West 44th Street, depicting it as the home of A Chorus Line, and the Majestic down the street, where The Phantom of the Opera remains a fixture.

“I am obsessed with their details, how much beauty there is in each one, how much care,” Mr. Parker told The New York Times in 2006. “They’re full of ghosts. Theaters are phenomenally holy places.”

Robert Miles Parker Jr., called Miles by his friends, was born on Aug. 22, 1939, in Norfolk, Va. His father died when he was a boy, and his mother, Helen Elizabeth Treakle, married a Navy sailor, David L. Bratton. The family moved to San Diego. Mr. Parker returned to Norfolk for his senior year in high school and graduated from William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., then returned to the West Coast to earn a master’s degree in arts education from San Diego State University. He later taught drawing at Parsons the New School for Design in Manhattan.

Not one to hide his light under a bushel, Mr. Parker was, as a friend once described him, tall and thin with “a soup strainer mustache and a head of thick white hair that looked as if an eggbeater had just passed through it.”

An iconoclastic personality and a willful self-promoter — “Let’s just say he was a holder of strong and not always supportable notions,” Mr. Van Leer said — he became known in San Diego as an effective gadfly on behalf of the city’s Victorian architecture, much of which he drew.

In 1969, surmising that a crumbling home dating to 1887 known as the Sherman-Gilbert House was to be demolished, he posted a hand-lettered sign in front of it, reading, according to various reports, “Save Me” or “Save This House,” and included his phone number.

The tide of calls he received from passers-by was overwhelming, and in response he founded the Save Our Heritage Organization, known as SOHO, which eventually raised the money and exercised the local clout to reclaim a number of Victorian houses and other neglected buildings in the city. With San Diego County, SOHO also created Heritage Park in the city’s Old Town section, where a handful of historic structures, including the Sherman-Gilbert House, were relocated.

In addition to Mr. Van Leer, a retired literature professor whom he met in Los Angeles in 1984, shortly before moving to New York, Mr. Parker, who held onto the name of his birth father, is survived by a brother, Henry Bratton, and a half-brother, Tom Bratton.

Mr. Parker’s other books include L.A., featuring drawings of Los Angeles, and Images of American Architecture,”a collection of drawings from around the United States. But New York was evidently where he found he most belonged.

“When I lived here, I felt too unique, too unusual,” he said in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune on a visit to his former home in 1989. “In New York I feel normal. The more absurd I dress and act, the more I feel at home in New York.”

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