Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
10:30 AM 17th November 2020

Artistry of Lancashire: Keith Parkinson

A Personal View

There’s a particular moment of excitement, and sometimes trepidation, as I stand in front of my canvas, brush loaded and poised for that first mark. It might be in my studio, on a beach or up in the hills, that frisson is always there and manifests itself in the hover – the hanging over the canvas, bobbing the brush tip up and down like a snooker player lining up a shot – then the dart and sweep of the first marks.

Aspects of Pendle: from Bashall (Oil on Calico)
Aspects of Pendle: from Bashall (Oil on Calico)
I rarely start a painting with slow, measured marks, painstakingly plotting every line. I like to dive in, start big with the key lines and shapes, and get moving paint around as quickly as possible. That’s probably why my medium of choice is usually oil paint. Its slidy, tactile nature is so pleasurable to work with. Rather than a firm finished idea, I prefer to work from starting points which are recurring themes. These mostly relate to a sense of place; physically, in respect of landscape derived work; but also in a more philosophical or spiritual sense in the way people and society interact with each other and the place. These might be images but could also be ideas, mathematical patterns, random paint marks or even text. I sometimes write haiku poetry to stimulate my thinking which may then appear in or under the painting. I apply colour and respond to what happens on the canvas in front me, manipulating paint with brush, hands, scraping tools and sprays.

My landscape derived paintings can be fairly ‘realistic’ or completely abstracted, and all things in between. One thing remains consistent. It has to be about a place that means something to me. I have paintings of Anglesey and Mull: I always paint on holiday, but much of my work is about the Lancashire landscape. I lived for ten years on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Barrowford, which was a rich source of inspiration. Now I find myself frequently drawn to Pendle and the Bowland Fells, the subject of numerous paintings in recent years.

Pendle from Parlick (Pastel on Paper)
Pendle from Parlick (Pastel on Paper)
Perhaps this has been fed by the Community Art initiatives I have been involved in. I have led projects in youth clubs, extremely successful town centre empty shops residencies looking at youth engagement, and mental health initiatives for adults, often with my colleague at Atelier Arts, Beverley Chapelhow. The Arts on Prescription scheme run by Pendle Borough Council introduced me to teaching art as a therapeutic tool. This led to working with the Bowland Forest AONB project and the Pendle Landscape Partnership. A summer spent taking (often isolated) adults out into the Pendle landscape to make art in all sorts of traditional and whacky ways was a positive experience for the participants and absolutely inspirational for me.

All of this grew from my work in schools. As a former Primary Headteacher I have a range of skills beyond the art which have helped me deliver successful school projects all across the North of England. It is vitally important to engage children with art. It is easy, though nonetheless true, to describe its impact on well-being and the opportunities it gives for children to shine who might not otherwise, but research shows it goes much deeper than that, impacting on children’s learning right across the board.

Stag under Ben More, Mull (Acrylic on canvas)
Stag under Ben More, Mull (Acrylic on canvas)
However, it was mental health which was the catalyst for my career in art, which had long been my exit strategy from teaching. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing with my Granddad at his little table, pencil and paper fighting for space with his brew and cigarettes. I gave up art formally at school, the way it was taught didn’t inspire me, but I always drew and painted and read about art. It remained a hobby and led to 3 years of evening classes at Blackburn College. In 2004 I became ill, left my post and after a period of recuperation, began a Fine Art Degree at Blackburn. I was like a child in a sweet shop tantalized by new ideas to wrestle with, new approaches and media to explore, inspiring tutors and colleagues to learn from, new artists to discover. I had always appreciated the work of Turner and it was on college trips to London where I got to see his work for real, together with the wonderful Rembrandt portraits and Munch’s self exploration, which really resonated with me at the time. I also discovered and was inspired by Peter Lanyon, Frank Auerbach and Käthe Kollwitz. What they have in common for me is how emotion courses through every brush or charcoal mark. I had a fabulous time, made some great friends and learned a lot.

On graduating in 2008 my adventures into the art world really began. Obviously continuing to make, exhibit and sell my own art, to develop my work with schools and to move into community arts. Several Engagement projects in empty shops later, which I believe sowed the seeds for the resurgence of the arts, in Blackburn, Beverley Chapelhow and I opened Ribble Valley Art Studios. We created a vibrant little community of artists in the centre of Clitheroe, renting out affordable studios to artists and delivering classes and workshops. We later changed our name to Atelier Arts and are a buzzing little hub for art.

Parlick Hill (Acrylic on calico)
Parlick Hill (Acrylic on calico)
Activities have been interrupted this year, which has led to some unique challenges and opportunities. Working at home without pressure has been welcome, missing other people to discuss our work with was hard, Zoom workshops with schools have been ….. interesting. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was taking down an exhibition a week after hanging. The Palace Cinema Longridge hosted a show of work made with my wife Sheila, a collaboration of painting and textile art, often within the same piece, which we worked on for several months. We are looking forward to finding a venue in 2021, but in the meantime we are hoping to stream it online soon.

At the centre of it, though is that brush poised over the canvas, the paint glistening on the bristles, ready to cover a canvas with marks and colour which represent more than a motif. For me they are about expressing an emotional response, a connection with my subject and also a pleasure in working the materials themselves. I’m not always looking for an accurate representation or the pretty or picturesque. I see the beauty in combinations and expressions of marks and colours, and particularly in dramatic light and dark. A painting may begin by looking at a reference, rarely a photograph, more often direct observation of the subject, or from sketches drawn from life, but as it nears its conclusion it takes on a life of its own. I look less and less at my subject and focus on bringing my painting to life.

And so the painting. The canvas is before me on the side of Pendle, facing the wonderful big landscape out towards Pen-y-Ghent. The hesitancy is over and the painting is gaining energy and direction. What better feeling?

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Instagram: parkinsonkeith
Twitter: @distractedkeith