In Memory of Tony Parkin 1943 - 2012

TONY PARKIN 1943 – 2012

Anthony Montague Parkin, known locally as Monty and by his art school friends as Tony, died on 11th June. A moving celebration of his life and work was held at St Mary’s Church, Kemsing on 10th September.

Tony attended Beckenham School of Art from 1960 to 1962 and then completed his NDD course at Ravensbourne College of Art. From the outset, his work demonstrated a passion for detail through line and form. He was born, grew up and lived the rest of his life in the village of Kemsing in Kent and it was this area of the woods and hills of the North Downs that he mined for inspiration and over the following years, would transform into a unique vision of rural Kent. In this he followed two of his admired predecessors, William Blake and especially Samuel Palmer who had worked in and around Shoreham and who had produced there his visionary pastoral paintings.

Beeches Sunset

Unlike most of his fellow students, it was clear from the outset that Tony knew the direction in which his work was heading. His style was already distinctive and his drawing ability was obvious. If there was a problem it was his timing. When he arrived at Beckenham in 1960, a certain fashion or tendency was apparent in the work of the older students. A somewhat muddy abstractionism seemed to be the order of the day, which in hindsight had been influenced by the state of the art market at that time. Tony was never remotely interested in this and determinedly ploughed his own furrow by producing clear and literal representations of what was before him. Being naturally self-confident and not suffering perceived fools easily, he saw no reason to alter his style and made this reluctance obvious. This could occasionally result in friction between himself and certain teachers.

Sideboard pencil drawing

One of the twentieth centuries “isms” did get through, however. The reader must remember that fifty years ago surrealism was still fairly avant-garde and the paintings of Ernst, Chirico, Dali, et al were novel and fascinating. Tony flirted briefly with the movement and its central tenet or dogma of combining disparate objects and figures in an attempt to simulate and stir the workings of Freud’s primitive id. In Tony’s hands though, this was merely an excuse to produce bizarre and startling images and he found any attempt to psychoanalyse them laughable. But he was intelligent enough to also realize that darker themes maybe running around somewhere underneath. He just wouldn’t admit it!

Maggie, The Market Forces’ Sweetheart postcard

A legacy of his brush with surrealism was a discovery and liking of earlier painters who had trodden similar paths but not so self-consciously. Painters such as Bosch and Bruegel and especially Arcimboldo, the 16th century mannerist painter who produced extraordinary double-meaning portrait heads (a favourite gimmick of Dali’s) from food. Tony did a series of nature paintings (often incorporating a satirical message) where cascades of leaves and twisted branches seem to transmogrify into creatures or figures.

Fallen Yew Tree

The naked civil servant and soon-to-be rising star of stage and television, Quentin Crisp, occasionally took the Charing Cross to Hayes train, disembarking at Clock House station. From here a short walk brought him to Beckenham School of Art where he posed for life drawing classes. Tony later used one of his drawings of Quentin as the basis for a small etching, which would go on to win a prestigious competition. During his sell out one-man show at the Duke of York’s Theatre, Quentin Crisp had been invited by Thames Television to choose his favourite life drawing from among hundreds sent in by art students. He chose Tony’s etching and one evening in 1978 in front of millions of viewers, together with news broadcaster, Andrew Gardner, presented Tony with his prize – free tickets for the show and a night out for Mr and Mrs Parkin with Quentin Crisp! The National Portrait Gallery has one of the etchings in its collection.

Tony left Ravensbourne College of Art & Design in 1965 and his artistic career took a couple of interesting diversions during the following two years. A spell working in the British Museum followed by a period as technical assistant in the nearby Art Department of London University Institute of Education were, as far as I know, the only times he had to endure the commuting hell of regular employment.

Quentin Crisp 1978

1967. Having turned his back on the rat race, he used his home in Kemsing as his base, eventually building a fully equipped studio in his garden. From here he set about meticulously recording through drawings, prints and paintings as well as through the written word and innumerable talks and lectures, his beloved North Downs, the people of the villages and farms and the rich history of the land, well aware that this legacy was fading from the collective memory. Tony’s North Downs’ drawings and paintings were reproduced in numerous books and magazines. His work featured in a whole series of one-man exhibitions and mixed shows over the next forty-five years. He exhibited at The Royal Academy and held three acclaimed London solo exhibitions. In 2009/10 he had sell-out exhibitions in Sevenoaks and Hall Place, Bexley. His latest showing was in November 2011 when he was invited by Brian Sewell to enter some drawings in The Discerning Eye exhibition at The Mall Galleries.

Mike at Tea Break

Tony and Anthea were married in 1976 with Tom being born in 1979 and Anna in 1985. Graham Sutherland got to know Tony and Anthea well. He wrote the introduction to Tony’s one-man show at the Langton Gallery in Chelsea in 1977. He said, “When first I saw the work of A. M. Parkin six or seven years ago, I was struck at the outset by the fact that here was someone using his eyes acutely in his chosen field with obsessive attention.” And “Any collector of prints…would do well to start a collection of these mysterious works – so full of understanding of quiet places”. Terence Mullaly, art critic of the Daily Telegraph wrote, “What is recorded is a sense of intensity in the face of the mystery of nature”. He continued, “It is a long time since I have seen a better drawing by any living artist than his Otford Church and he can bring a kind of loving tenderness to the rendering of a battered kitchen sink in what to most people would seem a sordid corner”.

During the 80s he produced several series of postcards depicting politicians, and military and religious personalities of the day. These were both viscerally and intellectually witty satirical works and with any luck, were deeply offensive to their targets. They rapidly became collector’s items. Nowadays they can be found in private collections and museums. The Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street has in its collection, “Maggie, The Market Forces’ Sweetheart” and “The Unassailable Heart”.

The Art of Survival by A. M. Parkin, subtitled Some Ideas on Selling for Artists, was the first among a range of books he wrote. Of this book, published in 1983, The Observer said, “Tony Parkin’s invaluable book which gives detailed information on a number of ways an artist can make a living is now available in an expanded second edition”. Among his other publications were Surviving by Magic, On East Hill, Yesterday’s Papers, The Art Game: Modern Art is Madder Than You Think, A Village Remembered and An Artist on the North Downs. His talks, often based on his books, were delivered to diverse and eager audiences all over London and the southeast. Other titles included, The A25, The Seal Charter Murder, Pioneers of Flight, Women in Print, and his last talk, Delius.

I nearly forgot to mention Tony’s regular slot on Radio Kent and frequent invitations to Radio 4 where his wit and ingenuity as a songwriter were heard. In fact during the 60s, he had formed his own group of musicians, “The Shelds”. He even got the blessing of the chairman of the Shell oil company to adapt one of their posters to provide some publicity for the new group.

Beeches Greenhill


Just before his death Tony had compiled a book of his work from the 1960s to 2012. It had not been published but will be in Autumn 2012. In memorial to Tony, his family plan to hold a retrospective exhibition and publish some books of his work later in 2012 and during 2013, as well as establishing a charitable art prize in his name designed to support young local artists via the distribution of art prizes and bursaries. Details of all these will be published on his website: click on linktext

Adrian Buckley
BSoA 1960 – 1962
October 2012