Ione Parkin RWA
Ione Parkin has spent the past twenty years as a professional artist painting images that reflect elements of the world that she has experienced. In the past decade she has focussed more on geological references, with other ideas coming from satellite pictures of the earth’s surface and microscopic detailed imagery of earth’s structural components. In the past, in discussions of Parkin’s paintings, much has been said about this source material. However, I would like to argue that this is not essential in appreciating her imagery. Parkin’s work is an ongoing exploration of how to resolve, for her, the action of painting.
To date the best description of Parkin’s approach to painting is a 2006 article by Fiona Robinson1. The article summarises well the materials and thought processes that are Parkin’s working method. It catalogues the tools of her trade and modus operandi. And indeed Parkin is extremely inventive, using a diverse range of tools and materials that, surprisingly, excludes brushes, the most traditional item one expects to see in a painter’s hand.
I suspect that for most viewers, considerations of process are not particularly relevant. The paintings are so visually engaging that these are likely to be superfluous. On a visceral level, Parkin’s paintings are a pleasure to the eye. Colour, lights and darks, shifts of space, small flecks of pigment; all flow across the picture surface, combining to give each painting its own energy. The build up of layers of textures sets off each part of the painting surface, providing contrast and teasing visual enquiry. One can get lost in these spaces, absorbed in gaseous cloudlike forms or flowing currents of water.
Parkin provides a starting point in the understanding of a painting through such titles as Tidal Shift, Nebula, Turbulence, Coastal Rhythm. A title suggests that a picture is ‘about something’. This implies that this work is anchored in something visible, something experienced, either direct from life or from elsewhere. The viewer is invited to share this experience, an observation of the natural world that has been transformed into a non-objective representation. It is at this point that Parkin’s paintings are alchemically transforming, transcending the real through the process of applying pigment onto a flat surface.
And how wonderfully complex is this application. Parkin combines printmaking techniques, palette knife, cloth, sponge, thread, feather.........anything at hand in the studio that is usable and adds a different dimension in creating the image. In a new series, paper is scrunched up before being re-flattened, paint splotches and powdered metal, resin and ink vying with each other on the folds and peaks of an expanding palimpsest. Her willingness to experiment is a liberating asset, freeing her imagination. This is what makes her paintings so distinctly hers. In an art world where so many artists struggle to be distinctive, Parkin’s unique qualities make her stand out from the crowd.
There has been steady progress of the past few years in the development of her art. The newest images have become even more involved and involving of the viewer. Dribbles of white paint have introduced a new graphic feature that, while changing the painting’s perspective, enlivens the picture surface. The quantity of different marks and textures is broader, their combination more complex, even more absorbing to the eye. There are so many features to find in her paintings to keep the eye constantly challenged.
As suggested above, as well as the larger scale of the canvases, Parkin likes to work on paper; she has produced an extensive body of work in mixed media and monotype. This work has smoother, more fluid textures given the alternative support, paper being less absorbent to the paint than canvas. The pigment moves in a totally different manner, providing a fresh immediacy to the images. The mark making is more spontaneous in character. And, being on the whole on a much smaller scale, they are very covetable. Ultimately, what Parkin discovers in doing these paper works she then introduces into the canvases.
In addition, Parkin has started to present paper works in series of triptychs, which gives them a different dynamic. Not necessarily conceived as a single image and yet each panel painted simultaneously to the others, the relationship between the sections plays on the commonality of colour and character of the mark making.
The dual nature of Parkin’s work, between a notion of form being represented or not, allows the viewer discretion to perceive the image as they would like. As an abstract painting an artist has to balance three main components - colour, form and movement - and in this respect Parkin is absolutely successful. She has an intuitive eye and feeling for composition, sensitivity in use of colour, and appreciation of the importance of creating mood/atmosphere. The viewer’s eye and mind are drawn into these paintings and these qualities unconsciously grasped. There is nothing strident in this work; she uses primary colours sparingly and hard lines not at all. The images grow organically and contain a naturalness which is both pleasing to the eye and satisfying to the spirit. Parkin’s intention to illuminate us to the interconnectedness of the natural world in a non-representational way is sublimely achieved.
Although Parkin is not making specific statements about the state of the world, by alluding to the micro and macro aspects of the universe, her paintings can be said to offer recognisable fragments of our environment, though these are never specific. But for the viewer, any sense of recognition can give a painting special meaning, particularly at an instinctive level. The lack of any specific subject allows the images to be appreciated in multiple ways in the mind of the perceiver, making enjoyment of the painting all the more rewarding as an ongoing experience. Parkin’s paintings constantly tease and stimulate a response.
Since leaving Winchester School of Art in 1989, Parkin has exhibited widely in galleries in the UK and abroad. Her forthcoming exhibition ‘Fragments of Infinity’ at the Royal West of England Academy is the first solo exhibition for five years, and so is a perfect opportunity for us to view in depth her most recent work. The opportunity is there also for her to take stock before moving on into the future.
1. Fifty Wessex Artists, [EVOLVER]BOOKS, Sherborne, Dorset 2006
Geoffrey Bertram is a freelance curator, art dealer and writer. He has over thirty years experience of the art business, having worked with art galleries in Edinburgh, Toronto and London. Immediately prior to establishing his consultancy Bertram Enterprises in early 2005 he previously co-founded and co-directed Art First, London, between 1994 and 2004. Geoffrey is curator for Art For Life at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, and is chair of the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust, a charity established by the Scots/St Ives artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham.