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Chester County Press

Whimsical road signs point out 'Alternate Routes'

07/19/2016 09:29AM ● By J. Chambless

'4 Feet Back'

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

You may not know exactly what John Parsons is up to with “Alternate Routes,” his solo show at Bookplace in Oxford, but you'll at least be intrigued.

Parsons, a Coatesville area photographer and painter, is going big with this show, which opens on July 24 and continues through Aug. 20. The large paintings and collages are the size of road signs, but the things they're warning you about are delightfully off-kilter.

We can all appreciate the advisory of “Aging Limit: 78.7,” and the local humor of “Cow Tipping,” but then you notice how the universal “no” signs are made into cow udders, and how the skeleton of the cow is visible through its hindquarters, and then you think, “Hmmm...”

There's a universal warning in “Guilt Ahead,” but what's with the misshaped shadow in the left corner? And then there's “4 Feet Back,” in which the warning is illustrated by four actual feet – but they're connected by some sort of umbilical cord.

You can puzzle over the life choices offered in the map-like “Lewistown,” but still get no closer to figuring out why Lewistown is the right-hand turn away from Joy. At least it's a long way from Anger.

The looming “Do Not Enter” has a placid face peeking out from the warning that offers no guidance, but “Stop Dead” certainly gets its point across with a real animal skull and reflectors.

The farther out Parsons goes, the more you'll have to just play along, as in “Slow Down.” Why is the surreal, face-like sign swallowing the word “No” and speaking the word “Pervert”? There are equal parts inexplicable and cute in “Stop Light,” with its dozens of googly eyes and hypnotic pupils poking out of the red, yellow and green lights.

But somebody has to explain the circular piece with a baby's face painted red in the middle, and arrows indicating a range of possibilities: “Baby,” “Sweet” and the cryptic “Wu.” OK, then.

Parsons is at his best, perhaps, with “Posted,” a huge slice of tree bark glued to a frame, with a printed “No Trespassing” laminated sign like the kind you'd get at the hardware store. Only this sign has some advice from God that is both encouraging and unsettling. It's a neat trick, and it's reflective of the just-past-the-boundary spirit of this show.

You'll appreciate the metal bolt heads that stud some of the works, as if they've been bolted to the wall. The whole show is like a motorist's fever dream, but it keeps drawing you in with little bits of whimsy. Expect to be challenged, and you'll have a good time.

“Alternate Routes” continues at Bookplace (2373 Baltimore Pike, Oxford) from July 24 to Aug. 20. An artist's reception will be held July 24 from 5 to 8 p.m. The book shop and gallery is open Friday to Sunday. Visit

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].