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Artist accepts commissions.
As a dancer for fifty years of my own choreographic work and as former principal dancer with the companies of Martha Graham and José Limon, I bring to the practice of painting an interdisciplinary sensibility. I am also a video artist, so my practice of composing imagery for moving bodies within both the stage proscenium frame and the screen’s frame inform my consideration of the canvas as site for visual and visceral encounter.
A picture of motion is created in the mind’s eye every split second as the eye seeks to comprehend what it sees, what catches its attention. Bodies in motion attract our attention, and a dancer’s motion is my main attraction. With my paintings, or “motion pictures”, I engage my painter self to join the dancer self: I call into play the action of the paint brush in my hand, and my brush hastens to capture via the stroke of paint an essential thread or indelible trace of the dancer’s movement. I hold the brush like a lit sparkler in the darkness and paint the void with traces of its light. What remains is a web, a nest, a cluster of intertwining fibers, ribbons, networks, ganglia: a light dancer, if you will. A picture of motion. A motion picture.
My hope is yes, that each of my paintings imprints its unique kinetic branding on the inner eyelid, or a flurry that evokes a fleeting image of a body in motion: some of its delight, fierceness, lyrical effusiveness, animal alertness, its desire to catch my attention, its ability to draw its elusive pictures in space and time. If every instant of our waking and dreaming were seen with such x-ray calligraphy, would we lift off into weightlessness, like the timeless, floating calligraphy on an ancient Chinese scroll painting, or gradually plunge deeply into the microscopic neurocircuitry of our eternally moving bodies, grounded forever and yet newly mobilized in light? I am reminded of a quote from William Goyen’s “The House of Breath”: “Who knows what frescoes lie painted on the inside of the skull?”
Peter Sparling is the Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Dance and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus at University of Michigan. A graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy and The Juilliard School, Sparling was a member of the José Limón Dance Company (1971-73) and principal dancer with Martha Graham Dance Company (1973-87). As Graham’s assistant, he coached Rudolf Nureyev and collaborated with her on many new works. He has performed and staged Graham’s works all over the world and has appeared with the company twice on PBS Dance in America. His video curtain warmers, Beautiful Captives: Martha Graham and the Cinematic Id, Variations of Angels and Sacred/Profane have opened three of the company’s New York seasons.
Sparling has had extensive experience as artistic director, (Peter Sparling Dance Company 1979-1983 NYC, 1993- 2007 Ann Arbor), choreographer, performer, teacher (U-M Distinguished Faculty Award and 1998 Governor’s Michigan Artist Award), lecturer, video artist, writer (Ballet Review, Choreographic Practices, Michigan Quarterly Review, and the recent anthology, Dance’s Duet with the Camera), collaborator, administrator (former chair, U-M Dance Department), dance/arts consultant, and activist (co-originated U-M Gay Faculty Alliance in 1993 to secure partner benefits). Sparling was a resident at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2010. He has presented papers at Society of Dance History Scholars and European Association for Dance History; he co-chaired the groundbreaking conference Meanings and Makings of Queer Dance at U-M. His dances for video have been selected for numerous international festivals, including the 2007 & 2020 New York Dance on Camera Festivals, the 2008, 19 & 20 American Dance Festival Dance Film & Video Festivals, Lisbon’s InShadow Festival 2010 & 2019, DANCE:FILMS Glasgow and 2017 & 2020 Ann Arbor Film Festival. His made-for-TV work, Climbing Sainte-Victoire, was broadcast on Michigan Television in 2009. His screendance, The Snowy Owl, was featured in the Court Métrage of the Cannes Film Festival 2015. In 2014, he created a five-screen installation, the Pop-Up Projection Pavilion, featured as the centerpiece of U-M’s 2017 Third Century Screens Competition and Symposium. Sparling sustained a ten-year residency at the U-M Life Sciences Institute, where he collaborated with cell biologist Dan Klionsky and maintained a painting studio. Since retiring from U-M in June, 2018, Sparling has completed his memoir, Confessions of a Dancing Man, and continues to create videos and paint at his home studio. He has presented three solo shows of paintings at Gallery 22 North in Ypsilanti, MI and produced a cycle of 24 short videos to Schubert’s Winterreise for its premiere with live performance in June 2022. His paintings and videos have
been included in group shows at Ann Arbor Art Center, Buckham Gallery and Crooked Tree Art Center. Sparling is currently collaborating with New Theater of Medicine as assistant director and choreographer on a production dealing with physician suicide.
2018, 2019,2021- Fall- Gallery 22 North, Ypsilanti, MI. (solo exhibitions)
2019- Spring-Ann Arbor Art Center: “Art Now 2019: Painting”
2019- Winter-OutCenter, Benton Harbor, MI
2020-Spring-Buckham Gallery “Thanatos” Flint, MI
2021-Winter-Crooked Tree Art Center, Traverse City
2021-Summer-Kayrod Gallery/Hannan Center’s “Emerge”
2021-William Bolcom & Joan Morris
1973 BFA in Dance, The Juilliard School
1969 High School Diploma/English Honors, Interlochen Arts Academy
2014 Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished University Professor of Dance, UM
2007 Arts Ambassador Award/Ann Arbor Convention & Visitor’s Bureau
2006- UM Thurnau Professor for Excellence in Undergraduate Education
1993-2008 Annual Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs New Works Grants
1999-2003 Michigan Society of Fellows, Senior Fellow
2002 ArtServe Michigan Creative Artist’s Award
1998: Governor’s Michigan Artist Award, ArtServe Michigan
1998: Faculty Fellow, U/M Rackham Interdisciplinary Institute
1996-97: University Fellow, U/M Institute for the Humanities
1995-99: Grants from Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan, Consumer's Power Co., Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, M-Care, U/M Office of the President, Office of the Vice President for Research
1994: Michigan Council for the Arts And Cultural Affairs Project Grant, U/M Institute
for the Humanities for partial support of "Travelogue", U/M Office of the Vice
President for Research (OVPR) for Video Documentation of the Martha Graham
1993: Washtenaw Council for the Arts "Annie" Award for Dance Performance,
Arts Foundation of Michigan Creative Artist's Award, U/M Rackham Graduate
School Grant for Faculty Creative Endeavors, OVPR Grant for Retrospective
Performance, U/M School of Music Faculty Fund for Retrospective Performance;
1991: Faculty Recognition Award, The University of Michigan.
1989: Artist's Award, Arts Foundation of Michigan.
1988: Winner of Michigan Dance Association's Choreographer's Festival Adjudication;
1985,87: U/M Rackham Graduate School Grant for Faculty Creative Endeavors.
1983, 79, 71: Recipient of Choreographer's Fellowships, the National Endowment for the Arts
1972-73: Recipient of the Louis Horst Memorial Scholarship, the Juilliard School, NYC
Distinguished University Professor Emeritus (Dance, Video) University of Michigan (1984-2017)
Resident Artist, U-M Life Sciences Institute (2007-17)
Artistic Director, Peter Sparling Dance Company/Dance Gallery Foundation (1993-2008 Ann Arbor) (1979-84 NYC)
Register, Martha Graham Resources (1989-present)
Guest Choreographer: Ballet Gulbenkian/Lisbon, Grand Rapids Ballet, Rhode Island Dance Collective, Crooked Tree School of Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre
Principal Dancer, Martha Graham Dance Company (1973-87)
Panelist/Jurist, Screen Dance International, InShadow Film Festival
Guest Lecturer, Crooked Tree Art Center, OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), Interlochen Center for the Arts, Oberlin College, Penn State University, UNC Greensboro, Dance Studies Association, Council for European Dance Studies
painter in Michigan, dancer who paints, murals, interdisciplinary artist, gay artist