Parra's world gets a wall at SFMOMA, spun at Mighty

D M Parra and girlfriend Nicole Pedder at work on their SFMOMA mural.

How about this: for your first museum piece you can take the entryway wall of the second floor of the SFMOMA. It's a bigger surface than you've ever painted on before. Just do whatever. You usually decorate skateboards and coffee mugs with your work, but putting your bird-faced, omni-stilletoed characters in front of some of the world's most voracious art fans isn't a big deal.

Oh, and the passers-by aren't going to know that you're the artist, so they'll probably offer some critique. You're good with criticism, right? Also, don't upset the children. And then your band can play a show at Mighty (Thu/29).

Dutch artist Pieter Janssen, artist name simply Parra, laughs at the prospect of his fine arts debut in San Francisco. “I had an interview the other day and they asked me if I was nervous about now being reviewed by art critics. I was like, dude you don't even know. I already have critics all day!" All week long Parra and his helpers had been carefully filling in the lines of his quirky design: an avian-faced Icarus tumbling through the air, bare-breasted females, and the loopy typography he is known for. Snaking across the length of the wall a sentence can be pieced together that speaks to an early musical love of Parra's: Kate Bush. The piece, he says, is about taking time for yourself, and terminates in the shape of a woman holding back the chaos of the world. 

Which, since its painted on the well-traversed second floor landing of the SFMOMA, has been something he's had to deal with during its creation. "You get the real-real," Parra reflects. Teachers walk by with school groups, unsure whether they should subject the young minds in their care to Parra's vision. "You have to keep in mind who is your audience here," he tells me. "There are little kids, they might be offended by something. There's still a bit of nudity, but I think that is allowed. I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like it when people don't like it. I mean, when they have a reason to say 'that's vulgar.'”

It is true that a Parra design usually has some bite to it. He demurely counsels me to Google Image search "Rustico the Great," a T-shirt he made that was rejected by the Paris clothing company he created it fro, as an example of a time when he might possibly have taken things too far. He says that some have called his work "unfriendly to women," which I found surprising, since his work seems stridently feminist when you compare it to other designers in the skateboard and sportswear oeuvre. 

This Parra woman is unfriendly -- but just to non-partiers.

Coupled with a cutting sense of humor and some measure of vulgarity when children are not present, Parra's work has garnered a worldwide fanbase, who can claim a piece of his bizarre universe for itself via his clothing company Rockwell. I particularly kindled to the artist's girlfriend Nicole Pedder's gauzy Rockwell blouse from the brand's current line, its pattern echoing the figures she was helping to fill in on the SFMOMA wall. Parra has also done coffee mugs, bedding, and sneakers for Nike. He'd like to put out a line of moving boxes, he jokes. Or maybe it's not a joke (ping, U-Haul!)  

Oh yes, and he's a musician. Parra's band Lele will indeed be playing a show at Mighty immediately after the exclusive opening reception for his wall. A die-hard skateboarder, he's a little bummed that it won't be all ages, but hey, at least it's free. During the set he'll be occupying himself by drawing characters and putting them through some sort of magical machine he has that will animate them and project them on the wall of the club, leaving the world with one less surface that has not had Parra designs on it. 


Thu/29 9 p.m.-midnight, free


119 Utah, SF


"Parra: Weirded Out" mural exhibit

Opens Sat/31, through July 29


151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000


Parra in conversation

With local graphic designer Victor Moscoso

April 3 noon, free museum admission and entry


151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000