Meet Parker Ito: The Artist Who Believes in Himself, the Internet and the Power of Dick Pics
Words: Anna Soldner / Design: Anthony Tran
Parker Ito doesn’t believe in net artists. “I’m not an Internet artist,” Ito said. “I’m just a hipster on the Internet who makes art.” Clearly, the 26-year old Los Angeles-based contemporary doesn’t like to think of his art as merely a product of his environment.
Ito is difficult to define. There’s Parker Ito the professional, a self-described YIBA (Young Internet-Based Artist) who has achieved wide success and distinction in the art world for his paintings and exhibition projects that explore how the Internet affects traditional art objects.
There’s Parker Ito the Internet persona, a genuine and irreverently funny character who can out-wear Hamish Bowles in a dandy pant suit and tweets whatever the fuck is on his mind. And of course, Parker Cheeto the Net Artist, an enigmatic alter ego symbolic of Ito’s evolution as an artist.
At the core of these dimensions is a dynamic play between art, persona, and the power of self representation online — ideas that just as much characterize the essence of his conceptual practice as they do mystify it.
You just had your solo exhibition Parker Cheeto: The Net Artist (America Online Made Me Hardcore) in Copenhagen, featuring 28 paintings and a 7-hour documentary on the last year and a half of your life. How was it received?
To me, “Parker Cheeto…” is the most important show I’ve done so far because it really, in a way, was an overview of my practice as an artist, as opposed to just presenting a specific project. I’ve done so many things and I’ve tried to constantly reinvent myself in a way. This show really encapsulated all of that, and it also felt really honest to how I think about art, and how I feel about my work, as opposed to the last two solo shows I’ve had — they were kind of a little too serious and didn’t have my spirit. But I felt like I needed to do those shows to get to this point. I needed to sorta emulate some other styles to be able to come back and do “Parker Cheeto…”.
“See Also: Lai Fun, List of Pasta, Soba”, my last solo show, got 290 ‘Likes’ or something on Facebook and it was the first sponsored post I’ve ever done. "Parker Cheeto…“ at the moment only has 116 ‘Likes’, but 8 shares, which is better for my Klout score. I make an exhibition to document it and post it on Facebook, that’s my favorite part, so it’s kinda disappointing that it got less ‘Likes’. But people seemed really into the trailer and press release. “Parker Cheeto: The Net Artist (America Online Made Me Hardcore)” and “Anime Bettie Page Fucked by Steampunk Horse Warrior” are my two favorite exhibitions I’ve ever done.
How does debuting your work internationally compare to showing it in the states?
I think it’s received differently because I’m such an American artist; my sensibilities are very American. I made all the work in Copenhagen in three days, like literally everything was made in three days. A lot of it was a response to being in Copenhagen, not so literally but in some ways, yes … I love going somewhere and making the work on-site; that’s very interesting to me. So I fully did that and that’s something I couldn’t do in LA because I’m from LA. That part of the show really made it great for me.
Is that a typical approach for you, to make a bunch of art at once?
Yes, I always make a lot of work at one time. I think there’s various reasons why that is but obviously the Internet has a lot to do with that. There’s so much content on the Internet, I find for artists it’s really hard to keep up with the amount of content the Internet produces. I know having been involved with that, I’m not so interested in creating unique precious objects. I try to usually overcome that by making a shit load of work, and then just doing it as quickly as possible.
That’s interesting how your real life work habits are heavily influenced by the immediacy and speed of the Internet.
Yeah, I mean, when you use a term like ‘real life’, I’m very dogmatic in what that means. For me, there isn’t a ‘real life’ and a ‘non real life‘ — it’s all the same thing. These things are flowing fluidly in and out of each other; they’re not completely seamless. But there is kind of an in and an out, and I guess everything I’m doing is somehow referencing the way we’re interacting with the web.
So if you are Parker Ito, who is Parker Cheeto?
Parker Cheeto is multiple people. I have no idea who the real Parker Cheeto is, I actually think it’s two people. Metaphorically, Parker Cheeto is — they’ve told me, because they have a Facebook account now, and they also made Parker Speedo, Parker Frito, Parker Dorito, Parker Ego and Parker Burrito — like the Ziggy Stardust figures or something. In my mind, I went through this transitional period and this show kind of represents that. I’m not just an artist who’s making .gifs with their friends anymore, I’m actually involved in the art world and all this other bullshit.
Essentially, the “Parker Cheeto…” show was a narrative of the last three years of my practice, like a retrospective. So ‘Parker Cheeto: The Net Artist’ is this abstracted version of me, which is already abstracted anyway because of the way we’re filtering information through the Internet.
I’m not just an artist who’s making .gifs with their friends anymore, I’m actually involved in the art world and all this other bullshit.
In previous interviews you’ve called yourself a “professional web-surfer”, which I totally believe because you accepted my Facebook friend request in a matter of seconds. If you were to make a Parker Ito Guide to the Internet, what would it say?
It wouldn’t really be a guide, it’d just be how to live your life more. I think one of the big things for me is people really get upset over Internet privacy. A huge part of the Internet is about access to information, so when I read people complaining about Facebook and all this shit I get really annoyed because that’s what Facebook is for — it’s for sharing, it’s for communicating. I really don’t believe in censoring and privacy filters. I just try to be positive and accept everyone’s friendship on Facebook and I try to follow everyone on Twitter —although that’s kind of hard. I don’t know what to say because it’s so natural for me. I also supposedly have a very loud and obnoxious Internet persona and that really feels natural to me as well. I don’t know, that could just be the leo in my star sign or that I did acting or that I’m a first-born child and used to attention.
You wrote your own press release for your “Parker Cheeto…” show (which is the really great by the way), declaring in it you “don’t believe” in things like Klout or Grimes or rich people or pronouncing GIF the right way. What exactly do you mean by all that?
At the end I say I believe in the Internet, so in a way I believe in all of those things in some way.
There’s a lot of conflict. I’m into these things but also cautious of them. Essentially, I’m just a guy on the Internet. I’m just like everyone else and using the Internet just like everyone else. But I decided to call it art. So when artists get on this fucking high horse about pushing culture forward or saving culture, it’s hard to take that seriously when in the face of that people are being more creative on the Internet everyday and not calling it art, so in some ways I was responding to that. I’m not so much covering new ground really, I’m just kind of taking some ideas and filtering them through an image, putting a twist on them.
I hope that Urban Outfitters rips me off […] I’m totally okay with that.
If someone were to take an image of your artwork, post it to Tumblr without credit and it got 10,000 reblogs, would you view that as detracting or adding to the original purpose of your piece?
I hope that Urban Outfitters rips me off or doesn’t credit me, I hope that my paintings end up on a t-shirt that’s sold at Opening Ceremony. I’m totally okay with that. It’s the same discussion with the whole Rihanna-Seapunk thing. Seapunk was an aesthetic that was built on shitty 90’s graphics and the color green. It’s like, you don’t own any of that shit anyway. I think it’s powerful that something as insignificant and insular as Seapunk could be picked up by Rihanna. That is mind blowing and more interesting than ‘who wore it first’. I think images of my work have already been on Tumblr uncredited, at least I hope. I don’t think this really adds or detracts anything, I just think it’s a reality of the time we live in. My work is hovering around these ideas, so when this kind of thing is taking place the ideas in my work are being acknowledged or something.
You tweeted about showing some curators pictures of your dick. What was the motivation behind this?
A lot of people who read my twitter assume the things I’m tweeting about are not real or I’m making them up or something. Firstly, I have a lot of porn in my phone and for a while I was getting drunk (I just quit drinking) and always showing it to people. I don’t like sending nudes — it’s not really my style — but I did send some last year for the first time.
One of [the curators] is gay, and one of them’s a girl and also a Muslim and they really wanted to see pictures of my dick. I was like “noo” but then for some reason I was like, ‘oh, whatever’ and showed them it.
Let’s talk about your style. You seem to have an affinity for smart tailoring and lots of color. Do you ever wear black?
I used to wear all black, but then I became bored with that and now I wear all crazy colors. To me it’s about aesthetics. Even though I kind of know fashion, I don’t want to ever follow fashion or believe in it. I’m interested in aesthetics and style and making an outfit is like making a painting to me. I wouldn’t say it has anything to do with my art, but in my brain it comes from the same place.
Your exhibition trailer features you getting tricky around your show space. How’d you get into skateboarding?
Skateboarding was the thing I did before I became an artist; I quit it right before I decided I wanted to do art. Now that I went to art school and think like an artist in some ways, I kind of have a renewed appreciation of skateboarding. Actually, I’m heavily critical of skateboarding and skateboarding culture. Sometimes I think about skateboarding more critically than I think about art. It’s so fucking pure on a certain level; it’s so much fun and I did it for so long and was so invested in it — it was a thing in my life before art and the Internet that was really prevalent.