“There was a casualness in his attitude toward his work,” said Joe Ciardiello, an illustrator who was a friend of Mr. Parker’s. “So many artists can get so fussy about the correct kind of paper or the proper pen or paints. But Bob would use whatever he had — people would give him paint, he’d use cheap stuff, expensive stuff. He wasn’t precious about it.”
Robert Andrew Parker was born on May 14, 1927, in Norfolk, Va. His father, William, was a dentist who, because of his position with the U.S. Public Health Service, moved his family occasionally. His mother, Harriett (Cowdin) Parker, was an amateur artist who kept her son supplied with art materials.
Bob began his artistic work in earnest when, after he contracted tuberculosis when he was 8 or 9, he and his family moved from Michigan to Fort Stanton, N.M., for the more arid climate. He spent most of the next two years in a bed on a screened-in-porch, reading voraciously and sketching battle scenes from the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and the Second Sino-Japanese War, based on radio accounts of the conflicts.
After serving in the Army Air Corps as an airplane and engine mechanic, he enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1952. He then moved to New York City, where one of his prints was included in an exhibition of young artists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He taught art for a few years at the New York School for the Deaf, studied for a summer at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture and built his printmaking skills at the Atelier 17 studio.
Then came an unusual opportunity. He was asked by MGM to go to Paris to work on “Lust for Life,” the 1956 biographical film that starred Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh.
The original plan was for Mr. Parker’s and Mr. Douglas’s hands to alternate onscreen, where they would appear to be creating van Gogh’s paintings. But they worked on only one, “Wheatfield With Crows,” before Mr. Parker’s job became copying about 100 of van Gogh’s drawings and paintings to use in the film. With his earnings, he bought enough paint in France to last him 12 years.