Talk with Ross Parker for only a few minutes and it’s immediately apparent he’s an artist at his core. It’s in the way he speaks about his preferred subject matter, which has remained unchanged since childhood—nature, particularly the animals, plants, and landscapes of his native Zimbabwe. He talks about the “soft, hazy light” of the southern hemisphere and of “stars so close you feel like you can pull them out of the sky.” He speaks of a silence interrupted only by “the call of a dove, or the roar of a lion, or the bark of a kudu.”
“The bush, wildlife, flora, and fauna have been my passion my whole life,” says the Tequesta resident who owns Call of Africa’s Native Visions Galleries in Palm Beach Gardens and Naples, which are filled with works that celebrate the species and places he loves. Since his start in the gallery business 36 years ago, Parker has worked with more than 34,000 collectors and showcased the works of approximately 30 sculptors, carvers, painters, and glass artists from Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and across Europe. Coming in March, lauded South African painter Derric van Rensburg will visit Native Visions in Palm Beach Gardens after a late-February stop at Parker’s Naples gallery. Charitable giving is a guiding principle of Native Visions, and a portion of sales from van Rensburg’s visit will be donated to the Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife in Durban, South Africa.
“My favorite thing in the world is animals,” says Parker, who grew up on a 16,000-acre ranch in what was then Rhodesia and spent his childhood caring for a menagerie of pets—duikers (a small antelope) and pookies (slang for a galapago, a tiny primate), as well as baboons, monkeys, hawks, and owls. He considered a career as a veterinarian but showed such promise with watercolors, acrylics, pencils, and chalk that he was offered a chance to study art at university.
But these were unsettled times in the region, and art gave way to military service. Parker joined the Rhodesian Special Forces, fighting Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union. In his time as an airborne commando, he met Americans—many of them Vietnam veterans—who, after Mugabe’s victory, enticed him to move to the United States. In 1980, with two suitcases and $1,876—his military retirement payout—he arrived in Miami to start a new life.
It was on a return trip to Africa that Parker says “a light went off.” He met a stone sculptor and a wildlife painter and saw an opportunity to unite his love for Africa, animals, art, and nature by representing these artists in the United States. The first Native Visions Gallery opened in Boca Raton in 1987, primarily showing works from Africa. He eventually expanded to include nature artists from around the world, and other galleries followed. Today, he operates two Native Visions—the Palm Beach Gardens location, which opened in 2015, and the Naples gallery, which opened in 1999. He plans to open a third gallery in Fort Lauderdale this summer.
Wanting to share the beauty of his homeland with clients, in 2020, Parker launched Native Visions Safaris, allowing customers to experience Africa from the perspective of someone who grew up there. During “art safaris,” guests travel with a native artist who later recreates a scene from the experience on canvas. “This is such a unique way to capture a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” says Parker.
A piece of his heart may be in Africa, but there’s a piece in Florida too. As Parker describes our state, he paints a picture of a land of “spring-fed rivers and vast wetlands,” of “cypress and black-eyed Susans,” of “kayaking in blue, blue rivers with alligators floating by and the most beautiful waterbirds in the world.”
Nature, it seems, is the greatest artist.
Mark Your Calendar!
Like Parker, Derric van Rensburg’s work is informed by a childhood spent in African
nature—in van Rensburg’s case, it was the bush and savannas of South Africa. From these experiences, along with a formal education in fine art, grew the painting style he calls “Contemporary Impressionism.” His work, as he describes it, captures “fleeting images
of light and texture and shape” in the landscapes, daily life, and natural world around him. Van Rensburg’s art has been exhibited at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and at Cape Town’s Iziko South African National Gallery. He views Florida as a natural outlet for his artwork and particularly enjoys painting native birds. “I’m in seventh heaven when I have to do one of those,” he says. Don’t miss your chance to meet van Rensburg and view his art at Native Visions in Palm Beach Gardens March 7, 6-9 p.m. (advance registration required at nativevisions.com).