Where nature, creativity and plenty of local Maine charm intersect, you’ll find Portland artist Jordan Parks. And as for her physical location, if she’s not working on a new project, she’s probably out on Casco Bay on a kayak or surfboard, leading a tour or just taking in the sights solo. Because for Jordan, art and nature are inseparable: one inspires the other, and vice versa. Which explains why you’ll find most of her work out within the environment, in public spaces, where everyone can see them.
People are noticing—which is precisely the point—and recognition has followed. Jordan was honored with a Brookie Award in 2020, given yearly to a handful of Maine’s young environmental leaders, and has become an outspoken voice on issues like climate change and sustainability. Not bad for someone who also works full-time as the operations manager of SailMaine, a non-profit community sailing organization, and surfs year-round (yes, even in winter—more on that later).
Even with her busy schedule, don’t expect Jordan to slow down anytime soon. It’s not in her nature and never has been. “I first started creating when I was a kid,” she told us. “I remember my aunt giving me a book on how to draw animals because I've always loved animals. It made me feel like I could actually make them like I'd seen in books. It wasn't until way, way later that I realized I liked deconstructing what they look like in my representation versus how they're supposed to look.”
What is in her nature, though, is the desire to use her unique style, an abstract take on shapes, colors, wildlife and the environment, to tell her story.
“I get the inspiration to create to tell my story,” she explained. “It's all pretty narrative. If it’s more of an abstract piece, it's meant to be a conversation starter. Instead of making such specific pieces like I used to, I’ve been trying to create experiences that are connecting people to nature and getting them to either see art in a new way or see nature in a new way. So they both feel a little bit more accessible to people based on where they're coming from.”
If you’ve spent time in the Portland area recently and seen oysters painted on sails billowing across the harbor, then you’ll recognize the types of experiences Jordan likes to create. Or, take the ferry out to Little Sebago Island ($12 round trip and totally worth it), step off the boat and go for a stroll along the immersive art walk she designed. It’s all part of her vision to “put art outside and let it exist there for awhile and encourage people to go see it.” There’s a beauty in how the piece, exposed to the elements, evolves over time. It ensures that you never experience the same thing twice, that in some ways, it’s just as alive as the environment it inhabits.
While Jordan’s art definitely changes, her connection to Maine remains constant. Originally from Ohio, she found that no matter how many times she shuffles around, she keeps coming back.
“What keeps me here in Maine is the people,” she told us. “I mean, I love the landscape. The coast definitely inspires a lot of my art, but I have such a solid community of people in my family, too. It feels like a great place to continue making art. I can have the ocean. I can ride my bike. I can see friends. I can see my family. So that's why I'm here.”
With fall arriving and winter just around the corner, many Mainers are packing it in and looking forward to some indoor time. Not Jordan. She’s ready to squeeze into her 6-millimeter-thick wetsuit and get in some off-season surfing. No crowds, better wavers, the exhilaration of being in near-freezing water and at peace because, among the waves, Jordan feels the most alive. It’s here that her creative spark ignites, whether it’s for a new woodcutting project—”It’s always just so exciting and unexpected and a little uncontrollable. It's never exactly what you think.”—her latest meditation on oysters—”They have a multi-dimensional meaning to me, one I just find incredibly beautiful.”—or finding new ways to bring her art into public spaces. Because every time she brings the community a little closer to nature, she’s living her Every day should feel this good life:
“I see my art going in more of a public engagement direction versus like, ‘Here's this piece of art hanging on your wall.’ It feels much more like why I want to create, because it's a little bit of my story. What makes me feel alive is having that connection to nature and also having that connection to art. So when I can mix the two of them, it just feels awesome.”