Pariso Art: Bringing the joy of art class to your home and community
Interview by Katie Brownfiel. Images courtesy of Pariso Art.
Alison Pariso is the owner of Pariso Art, an art education company local to the New Kent and Williamsburg James City County communities. Alison and her husband, Frank, have collectively taught 10 years of art classes in Virginia public schools to students ranging from grades six to twelve. With two young children of their own, they are excited to launch this new venture that allows them to work creatively with students across Hampton Roads. Alison was kind enough to speak with me about her journey as an artist and teacher and to tell me more about her recent projects.
Tell me a little about your career path and how it has impacted you as a teacher and an artist!
I am truly a career switcher, in every sense of the word. It all started in college - I earned my BFA from an art school in Boston called MassArt in 2013. I studied printmaking specifically, however, I found myself pulling away from the idea of becoming a working artist my second year of college. Instead, I thought I would be interested in art gallery sales as a future career. I wanted to be able to still be involved in the art world, while making a solid living.
I spent most of my college career working part time at an art supply store called Blick Art Materials. It was there that I eventually met my husband and started working at another one of their locations in New York City’s Soho neighborhood during the summers. The first summer working in New York City was nothing short of magical. It was everything I had hoped for. I loved the thrill of the fast paced morning commute, the connections I was making in the art world, and the friends I made along the way. One day I was walking through Chelsea, Manhattan, and looking around at all of the different art galleries, and I decided to inquire about an internship at Jim Kempner Fine Art. I ended up working there every weekend and I would commute four hours each way from Boston to NYC on a $15 bus. It was there that I fell in love with the idea of working for other artists, rather than selling my own art. I later decided that I would move to New York the minute I graduated college.
It was soon after that I landed a job at Sotheby’s auction house as an art handler. I worked with a large team to install and uninstall the artwork and other items being auctioned. Sotheby’s was a glamorous place to work and to be able to see amazing art and artifacts up close. I wanted to work my way up the ladder to become an auction sales assistant, however, life had other plans.
The art handler job was physically demanding and the hours were long. I ended up not being able to keep up with the demands and decided this wasn’t the job for me. So again, I turned to
the only way I knew how to get a job, which was to just ask for it on a whim (because you only live once). I joined a cooperative gallery and soon after, I became the director. I finally started to feel a sense of fulfillment in my career because I enjoyed helping other artists and I enjoyed sharing my prior art gallery experience to promote artwork. It was a nice sense of community and support. I just still felt like I wanted something more, but I was unsure of what that was. My parents had recently moved here to Williamsburg, VA, and I noticed the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center was hiring for an art gallery manager/art education coordinator. Before we knew it, we were off and moving to Williamsburg to start a new life!
I worked there until we had our first baby, and then life happened again, throwing us a complete curveball. My husband had a series of unexpected health problems (he’s ok now thankfully!) and I needed to go back to work. I needed to find something fast, so I started as a substitute teacher. I hadn’t stepped foot in a public school since I graduated high school, so I really didn’t know what to expect. My first day was in a 4th grade classroom and it was the best day I had in a long time - it brought me such joy! So there I was again, looking for a new career as an art teacher. My first full time teaching job was at Warwick High School in Newport News as the Art 1 and 2-D teacher. Never would I have ever expected that I would be teaching high school students. I quickly realized that my students were giving me hope for my future, and I was giving them hope in return, through teaching them art. I will always remember my first students - they really transformed my career mentality. I vowed to myself that I would try to help someone else through everything that I do. I later moved on to work as a middle school art teacher in York County for the past 3 years. This year has been my first year of launching my art teaching business, Pariso Art and stepping away from the confines of the traditional art classroom.
You studied printmaking in college. Tell me a little about your work in that medium! What workshops relating to printmaking do you teach currently, and do you have any you'd like to teach in the future?
I studied printmaking at The Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, MA. The first year of college we all had to complete a foundation of art year where we tested out different mediums before deciding our major. When it came time to make a decision, I remember touring the printmaking studio and thinking it was stunning. It’s a gigantic room lined with large windows, complete with a variety of printmaking presses and equipment. I had been well acquainted with many art making skills because I actually attended a middle and high school art school when I was younger. However, printmaking was a process that was fairly new to me. I’m a strong painter and I love mixed media techniques, so I thought printmaking would be ideal.
My professors taught us how to do a few different forms of printmaking including etching (which was my favorite, especially on copper plates), lithography, and screen printing. Since I really took to artistic aesthetics that contained more tactile aspects, I focused on etching drawings of insects into copper. Insects symbolize lots of different meanings, and one specifically that I empathize with - the feeling of being “stuck.” One of my favorite pieces that I made was a wedding dress that I sewed together and then screen printed an ant pile that was heavier towards the bottom of the dress. I also screen printed ants on a corresponding veil. This piece was later the centerpiece of a Valentine’s Day exhibition at a NYC art gallery.
Currently, I am teaching printmaking to some of my homeschool students and we’ve been working on linoleum block printing on fabric! In the past, I have taught a pasta press printmaking workshop where we do mini copper etchings and then use a pasta press in place of a regular sized press to print the image onto paper. I hope to teach more printmaking in the future for sure.
What inspired you to become an independent teacher and start your own business? What is your business model, and what kind of workshops do you teach?
My students inspired me to start my own business! I was feeling stuck once again teaching in a traditional classroom setting and I was actively seeking solutions. The pandemic of course took a toll on everyone and I tried to shift my focus to proving that art can really be made anywhere (even behind a computer screen). When students began to return to in-person classes, there was a deep sadness that I could sense that was not there before. I was thinking about how I could help my students through this challenging time, and I would ask them how they were feeling about everything. The general consensus was negativity regarding motivation and social interactions. I was feeling similarly, because as a teacher of course, our jobs became more difficult and demanding. I was frustrated because I knew from my past experiences working in different careers, that art is so powerful and transformative. I needed to find a solution, so I once again took a huge leap. It has been a very empowering feeling to start my own business. My ultimate goal is to be able to reach youth of all ages through art teaching and art exhibitions. One of the best aspects of my new business is that I now get to teach former students in a new setting - that is controlled, peaceful, and motivational.
What art projects are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working on a variety of paintings for paint & sip special events. These special events have been a great way for me to get to interact with the surrounding community and get to understand others’ artistic needs and wants.
What artists have inspired your work as a teacher and artist?
My students have been my biggest inspiration. Watching them learn and grow through art is priceless and helps me to remember that it’s important to keep making art, even if you feel stuck. My favorite working artist though, is Kiki Smith. I interned at her art studio back in college and learned how to be a photo archivist. This meant that I spent a lot of time viewing her work behind the scenes and learning about her artistic processes. Something that always stuck with me was learning that Kiki Smith is an empathetic worker just like I am - not necessarily knowing what the end result is going to be, but enjoying the process of getting there. And I think that is such a profound method of art making.
What workshops have you most enjoyed teaching so far? What did you most enjoy about them?
I would say I really enjoyed them all equally, while appreciating the differences in each one. I love collaborating with other artists, as well as people in other professions. Working with you at On The Hill Gallery in Yorktown for our Ekphrastic Poetry workshop was an amazing opportunity. It was so cool to put into action how visual art is related to poetry.
What classes are you most looking forward to teaching in the winter and spring?
I am most looking forward to being able to set up an art gallery space exclusively for youth. I want this to be a way for kids to be able to display their artwork, free from judgment. I’d like to eventually offer special events such as art exhibition openings, themed shows, and so much more!
What do you most enjoy about working with young artists?
Their curiosity and their ability to express themselves and their unique experiences. Art is a great way for young artists to be both heard and understood.
If you are interested in booking Alison for a private class, a homeschool lesson, or learning more about her after school and community offerings, please visit her website:
https://www.parisoart.com/. She also offers gift cards that can be used for her classes, special events, and merchandise.