The Grand Dame of Flamboyance, artist Molly Parkin celebrates her 85th birthday with a Retrospective Exhibition of her paintings at the Stash Gallery, Vout-o-Reenees in Shoreditch, London. Here she’s interviewed by her daughter, Sophie Parkin.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known at 21?
The viciously debilitating long-term effects of alcohol and tobacco. All my close companions from then are long-since dead. I gave up both at 55, and the heady social life and lovers that went with them.
Which person or people taught you the most about life ?
My pious Welsh Valley grandparents, my mother’s parents, whom I lived with from the age of 7 to 11, to escape the London Blitz.
My beautiful, gentle Granny Noyle suffered the tragic loss of 11 of her 12 children in infancy. Her religion gave her wisdom, acceptance and infinite kindness. The entire community brought their problems to her home to be solved. She never turned anyone away.
Both my grandfathers, Tadci Noyle, former miner, and Tadci Thomas, former postman (my father’s father) introduced me to Nature…. to the overwhelming grandeur of the Welsh mountains, either side of the narrow Garw Valley, over the coal-pits below. Both introduced me to humour, conversations laced with laughter, but even more than that…the sense of just how extraordinarily rewarding it was simply to be alive, to cherish every single minute. Tadci Noyle was a scholar, his background being Brittany Gypsy. He had taught himself how to read and write in The Working Men’s Institute of the valley. He placed faith in ‘endeavour’ coaxing me into climbing the steep summit, aged 7, to be ‘closer to God,’ just beneath Heaven. He claimed ‘it will be worth it’ when we reached the very top. The breath-taking result with our valley and the next so far beneath, proved that he was correct. He had planted ‘endeavour’ into my very soul. I became addicted to the result.
Tadci Thomas, a pipe smoker, whose chest ‘couldn’t cope with heights’, strolled with me at a leisurely pace alongside the coal-black water of the swirling river…all the way out of the village up to the very next one at the top of the Garw Valley. He egged me on with jokes to make me laugh. We stopped very often to examine tiny blossoms and oddly shaped stones. More excitingly, to choose either boiled sweets or peppermints from one coat pocket. Or milk chocolate from the other.
Both grandfathers planted a fervent appreciation in me of humour and twinkling blue eyes, as well as clever, handsome and popular men with time on their hands. Both Tadci’s had retired when I came along but their influence and my Granny’s have given me purpose, drive, humour, faith in my own abilities, and generosity of spirit.
What do you think your working class Welsh background gave you that’s different to others that you’ve met?
My own family was a mixture of teachers, preachers and miners. We were all equals in that valley. Snobbery didn’t exist. Consequently, I have never suffered from social shyness or a sense of inferiority.
Did you ever feel inferior working on a national newspaper in Fleet Street for being a) a woman b) working class c) Welsh d) not being Oxbridge- educated?
The Sixties brought with it the ground-breaking talents of three cockney fashion photographers, David Bailey, Terence Donovan, and Duffy, with whom I worked as pals. Also artists, dancers, singers, actors and actresses who spoke in dialects, from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the North, replacing place the upper-class English accents.
Women’s Lib was hugely influential. Male domination in the workplace is no longer acceptable. Men must learn their place, just as women have had to!
You’ve done so much and been to so many places, where and when were you happiest (excluding the here and now!)?
As a travel writer I visited the South Pole – for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine – having always been drawn to snow and ice, visually. I travelled on a German Cruise Liner, amidst floating icebergs. On arrival in the South Pole, I boarded a plane above the snow-laden ice and through the exquisitely eerie landscape. I loved the slanting eyes, beautiful mouths, complexions, laughter of the people, and their friendliness, and that they lived in igloos! That memory is etched in my mind. And the unearthly conversations, plus the ghostly howling of the sleigh-dogs.
However India became part of me. When I bought a house there after I embraced total sobriety, I spent 2 months there every year for 10 years. The temples enthralled me and the warmth and welcome of every Indian I ever met…and their attitude to the end of their lives as mortals reaching heaven, being the Sublime. It has reformed my attitude to my own end, as being the beginning. I look forward to that. In Southern India, I was invited so many times to join in celebrating the deaths of my neighbours, we laughed and sang, and played music long into the night. No tears in sight, no grief at all, I loved that.
Where do you get your clothes from and how do you have the energy not to just throw on an old jumper and slacks during the day?
I wear my clothes with joy, beautiful fabrics, exquisite colours, including black, mostly made by me. My body responds with high spirits and health.
I very much doubt that ugly old jumpers and slacks could possibly do the trick!!
What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?
I can’t wait to greet the dawn, often I start the day with painting or writing. Four and Six am are my most inspired times. Later in the day, I fall asleep in front of the TV, whatever programme is on.
Any secrets for still being alive, sentient, and not senile?
I have taken to smiling at strangers in the street, especially tired young mothers with prams, and men and women of all ages..they all smile back, which surprised me at the start.
I am a vegan. That is giving me masses of energy, even though I would never have claimed to need more…. I sense it will give me a longer life, but love is always the answer.
As a painter who do you admire most or what is your favourite picture?
I admire the paintings of FRANCIS BACON, my friend and regular drinking companion at the Colony in Soho. BOTH my favourite paintings bring back fond memories – SELF PORTRAIT 1970 by Francis Bacon, oil on canvas. Hard to choose between this and TRIPTYCH May-June 1973 also by Francis Bacon, oil on canvas.
I travelled to the Cook Islands, in the wake of CEZANNE, having worshiped his Tahitian nudes, as an art student. I have also been inspired by TURNER, VAN GOGH, and the SURREALISTS.
Anywhere or one you still wish to paint?
I live very much in the day now, without making plans. My paintings come to life when they wish to do so. People or places. But recently I have been excited by my light-hearted self-portrait, ‘MUTTON’. I see my foibles in it, which makes me laugh. Humour and Truth. It represents a different direction, always unexpected, always exciting.
MOLLY PARKIN, CHELSEA, LONDON. 2017
Molly Parkin’s 85th Birthday Retrospective Exhibition is on from the 10th Feb until 15th March at The Stash Gallery The Crypt of 30 Prescot St London E1 8BB
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