MOLLY PARKIN | A FORCE OF NATURE
Molly Parkin, or Moll as she is affectionately referred to, is a true artist who sees beauty in all things. When meeting her, as she walked along the windswept beaches on the Gower, she pointed excitedly to all manner of objects and scenes – a cue for one of her companions to photograph them for use in future projects. Boldly climbing over rock pools and staring out to the sea, and up to the sky with her arms outstretched, her stunning, exuberant outfits reflect her outlook on life. “If you shout up to the sun with your arms outstretched, the universe will give you what you want”, she advised as the sun broke through the clouds.
Born in Pontycymer in the Garw Valley in 1932 as the second of two daughters, Molly moved with her family to live with her grandparents in London when the Second World War broke out in 1939. While working a paper round aged 14, she was knocked off her bicycle and fell unconscious, causing her to be hospitalised and to spend a year off school to recover. It was in this period of loneliness that she was first drawn to the arts and embarked on a career that would cause her to cross paths with some of the key figures in the world of arts and culture, and send her around the world. She then gained a scholarship to study fine art at Goldsmiths College in 1949, and then gained another scholarship to the Brighton College of Art. “It was never about the money,” she said while admiring the swirling colours of her peppermint tea in a seaside cafe, “we were told not to expect to make much money, it was about the art.”
However, after separating from her husband in the early 1960s, Molly lost her will to paint, and turned to fashion, becoming the Fashion Editor of The Sunday Times by 1969. After working in fashion, editing, and writing, Molly led a life many would be envious of, but had her energy sapped from her as a result of alcoholism. “I couldn’t create, it took everything from me. I wasn’t like Francis Bacon who could create very good work while drinking,” she said, “joining Alcoholics Anonymous was the best thing that I’d ever done.” Molly says that she is guided in life through her grandmother, whose voice told her to quit drinking, and to sketch the sunset on an envelope. Ever since this moment, she has jumped wholeheartedly into the artistic process with every inch of her being, and has created works that are rich in colour, passion, and Molly-ness.
Her latest exhibition, In Landscape, is on display at Galerie Simpson in Swansea, and focuses on the enchanting landscapes and seascapes of South Wales, which are very much a part of Molly’s personality, saying “you can never take the valleys out of a valleys girl.” Molly Parkin is an undeniable force of nature, who sees herself, and all of us, as much as a part of the ebb and flow of nature as the depictions in her beautiful paintings. There is no hint of regret to her, saying that she would do it all again, advising aspiring artists to simply follow their hearts, and then everything else will be looked after by the universe. “I couldn’t stand people who only cared about money” she said, in reference to her time working away from art, and it is a sheer delight to see the sprightly 83 year old so in touch with nature. Standing by the cold and biting Mumbles waves, Parkin beams and says “In my younger days I would take off my clothes and get in… you can’t get any more at one with nature than that.”
The exhibition is fantastic and shows Parkin’s wide range as an artist. From stunning watercolours such as her 2003 work Mynydd 1 to her acrylics My Garden 1 and Stormy Seas, and mesmerising oils like Tree of Life, Craig y Nos Castle, natural elements are everywhere in Molly’s vast collection of creations. “I heard my grandmother’s voice, as I often do, telling me to leave”, Molly said as she introduced us to her 2014 acrylic Aberystwyth Sea Front, which shows the power of the seas that battered the footpaths of Aberystwyth. Having travelled the world and having met some of the most interesting people to have walked the Earth, Molly revealed that the most beautiful she had seen was the far north, in the Arctic. “I flew over it in a helicopter,” she said, “it was so otherworldly – white as far as you could see, and the Inuit children were beautiful too.” This otherworldly feeling is captured by her inspired paintings such as the 1987 watercolours Icebergs, South Pole Night and Icebergs, South Pole Day. However, while her love of all nature is clear in her art and personality, Molly clearly has a deep love for home and her beloved Garw valley. “I was born on the side of this mountain” said Molly as she smiled in her charming way pointing at her watercolour My Pontycymmer Mountain.
Molly Parkin has an incredible understanding of colour and a brilliant gift as an artist, which is shown masterfully through In Landscape. Her love of nature and her soul’s home is clear, but what is most striking about her is the way she sees patterns and potential in all things. Staring out over the headlands of the Gower, she points and says “That’s a painting right there, although the sky could be nicer, but just look at the colours.” Her skill as an artist and in-depth knowledge of techniques allows her to show all sides of life in her work, from rough, stormy seas to her own garden, and from orgies like Just Another Orgy to people from her travels around the world, like in Indian Nights 1. While she has had problems with alcoholism and money, the way that she has handled them are as inspirational as her art. “I know the universe doesn’t want me to have these things at this time,” she says, finishing her strong peppermint tea and hinting at a friend to photograph a refracting straw on a neighbouring table. It is this acceptance and love that makes Molly such a free force of nature, but also reminds us that there is beauty and inspiration all around us. Finding it, just like the refracting straw, is just a matter of perspective.
Molly Parkin: In Landscape, Thurs 10 Sept-Sat 14 Nov, Galerie Simpson, Swansea, Admission: Free Info: 07714327523 / www.galeriesimpson.com
words LUKE OWAIN BOULT