painting titled The Gathering
Robert Parkin's signature

Biography

Iron, coal and smoke formed the employment for most in the industrial south of Derbyshire where I was born and raised. For me, exploring the 17th century industrial landscape of canals, woods and ponds, the relics of an industrial revolution, I discovered another world - one that has stayed with me to this day.

The natural world offered a window I found impossible to ignore; it provides the inspiration for all my work.

Robert Parkin working in his studio


Being a self-taught artist has been a blessing and a curse. My art education began by standing in front of works by Claude, Turner, Constable, Crome and Cotman. Their landscapes offered me in many ways a mirror to the world I was growing up in - that special light reflected off the water of the rivers Dove and Trent; rainbows against dark, violent skies. Deep green water meadows; the saffron glow from willow lined waterways; the dense, sharp mounds of golden flowering gorse, home to the Linnet. And fences: broken down and twisted around aging oak and ash. I was lucky, and inspired, to discover the Derbyshire dales and Peak District National Park, practically on the doorstep, at a very young age. There, the stone framed fields and age-old industrial and agricultural workings held a fascination for me. I have always been intrigued by the way that, what seem to most people untouched wild places, have in fact been shaped by generations of people; all with their own unique knowledge and skill. For me, landscape art must capture that. Constable knew it, and although his work is often criticised as being over sentimental and romantic, for me he is the greatest ever true English landscape artist. The technical aspect of painting I largely ignored in order to catch the moment, and I'm glad that I did.

At the age of fifteen I exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in London.

On taking my daughter to re-visit those painters today, their paintings hanging in the great galleries, well…it's like going home; they still inspire and excite, and I still feel their mood coming off the canvas.

Return to painting.

1992 saw a return to painting with a touring exhibition in Wales, The Festival of The Countryside. ‘Portraits of Nature’, the title of my own exhibition, ran in conjunction with the Countryside Commission for Wales. The exhibition was opened by HRH Prince Charles. The botanist and leading conservationist David Bellamy introduced his lectures in Wales using sculptures from the exhibition.

Since then I have attempted to manage my time (mostly without success!) to combine conservation work and painting. I believe we all have a responsibility to the world we live in. Not one that is satisfied simply by wringing one's hands and bemoaning the fact that all seems to be going wrong! And not one that follows the ridiculous attempts by the media to instil some sort of guilt complex on us all. My daughter, far more talented than I, deserves to develop those talents in a world that cares. One that values achievement, but one that values our culture, our past and our future just as much.

If I have any message from my work, then it is this :

Look around and see what really matters. Often it's right on the doorstep in simple things that generations before have toiled to achieve. Look at the fields that still show the ‘ridge and furrow’ of agriculture from the Saxon age - a misty brook flowing alongside a water meadow. Don't put a price on their future.

Robert Parkin stood by two of his paintingstoo close