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To view Missoula's first-ever exhibit of work by internationally collected artist Michael Parkes, you'll need to check your cell phone at the door, run your bags through an X-ray machine, show photo identification and pass through a metal detector.

If that experience feels surreal, just wait until you see the artwork.

Parkes, a native of Missouri who now lives most of the year in Spain, falls into what is generally referred to as the "magic realist" school of art. His paintings generally center around highly detailed, often romanticized images of people and angels, set in overtly symbolic or seemingly mystical locations.

For example, in his painting "The Riddle," a woman stands before a sphinx, two geese at her side - one of them connected by a ribbon to the woman - as she presents a goose egg to the sphinx. In another painting, a man with small wings floats in the air, waving a conductor's baton at a group of comically expressive musicians; meantime, a ballerina and a cat balance on a loop of rope curled in mid-air.

Needless to say, these are images that you don't see every day - even if you do hang out at federal courthouses.

But for the remainder of this month, on the second floor of the Russell Smith Courthouse (at the corner of Broadway and Pattee in downtown Missoula), 10 stone lithographs of paintings by Parkes are on display for anyone who cares to wander in (and pass through the security gauntlet at the front door).

It's the latest in a relatively new series of exhibits hung at the courthouse, thanks largely to the efforts of deputy clerk of court Beth Warren and Lynn Anderson, chief financial officer of the U.S. District Court of Montana.


Anderson said the idea for putting up art exhibits in the hushed upstairs lobby of the federal courthouse was born out of an effort to make the space more comfortable to those who find themselves waiting there during legal proceedings.

"The people who come here, it's often an anxious time for them, whether they're family members of defendants or they're witnesses or any kind of party to litigation," said Anderson. "So this gives them some respite from that anxiety, to be able to see the art."

Approximately eight art exhibits have taken place in the space in the past year, according to Warren, who said she aims to focus on presenting artwork by people with Montana connections.

"It seemed like this would be a nice setting for the public to enjoy the great art that's around this region," she said.

In the case of Parkes, the local connection isn't altogether evident on the surface. The show currently hanging at the courthouse features work by Parkes that has been collected over the course of years by Todd Brandoff of Lolo.

Brandoff first became aware of Parkes' art through a workout friend here in Missoula, who happens to be Parkes' father-in-law. Over a course of several years, Brandoff became both a friend and fan of Parkes, who has visited Missoula several times and owns a house in the area.

An avid art collector, Brandoff now owns 16 of Parkes' stone lithographs, of which 10 are on view at the Russell Smith Courthouse.

"I just think they're gorgeous works," said Brandoff. "So I thought it would be nice to share this work with the public, since people from Montana haven't really seen his work, even though he's really respected and collected in Europe and in Hollywood."

Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358, .


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