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OBITUARY // GEORGE PARKIN (1949 – 2012)

 
George Parkin
 
 

Robert Nelson remembers George Parkin

Understandably, most artists think of their powers of vision as a distinction, a faculty that sets them apart, that distinguishes their work from the work of contemporary and past artists. George Parkin, on the other hand, saw his formidable gift of vision as a resource to be shared with his equally gifted life-partner Rose Farrell.

It is hard to detach the memory of George from Rose: the two had an entirely reciprocal and complementary relationship, the one depositing each creative intuition in the imaginative of the other. Thinking artistically meant cultivating a mind beyond, potential only reached through mutuality. Rose and George enjoyed a way of thinking through one another; in their partnership, each was autonomous but related. There was apparently never a moment when one deferred to the other; both spoke without inhibition and seemed to voice the opinion of the other while directly voicing his or her own.

Farrell & Parkin 'Lower Leg Traction' from 'Traces Of Flood' 1999/2000

Farrell & Parkin 'Lower Leg Traction' from 'Traces Of Flood' 1999/2000

Of the two, George was definitely the more frenetic. His energy in doing or saying anything was memorable and apparently inexhaustible. Rose testifies to the fact that he did indeed sleep at night but from the spectacle of his presence, it seems hard to imagine him ever at rest. There was always something to think, to say, to realize. For all that, his indefatigable spirit was internally restful and settled; else I doubt that he could have thought so clearly. He was never so frenetic that his files were not in perfect order, instructions well organized and set out in the most logical and methodical way.

In the creation of the visual works, the peaceful disposition is seen at its ideal balance of zeal and placidness, in which not all the zeal comes from George nor all the placidness from Rose. George had great internal discipline and managed his ceaseless imagination with perfect equanimity and discipline. It is almost as if the contraptions in the Farrell & Parkin medical theatre were extrapolations of a great psychological containment which George exercised upon his vigorous spirit. A whole artistic methodology attended the natural agitation of his intellect, just like the apparatus for setting the bones in so many Farrel & Parkin pictures, where the instinct for rapid movement would be resolved in tranquillity.

Art was not the only expression of George’s dual dimensions of energy and structure. He was also eloquent with words, though it was a talent that he reserved for writing witty letters, speaking to friends and occasionally applications. His judgements on artists were very shrewd and sometimes incisively critical: his judgement, by my reckoning, was always accurate and often uproarious.

Farrell & Parkin 'Manga Optical Scanners' from 'Mangamorphosis' 2009/10

Farrell & Parkin 'Manga Optical Scanners' from 'Mangamorphosis' 2009/10

George’s language had an aphoristic keenness, which also applied to things of great moment which were not about art. When Rose first got cancer, I remember George repeating to us what he said to Rose: ‘we’re on this train called cancer and we’ve got to get off it as quickly as we can’. At the same time, he reflected with lapidary negative speculation: ‘What’s Parkin without Farrell?’ Because Farrell & Parkin’s outlook was based on empathy, the same empathy that arises in Shakespeare’s amazement at the power of theatre: ‘what’s he to Hecuba or Hecuba to him?’

As well as an inventor of forms, a visual analyst, a critic and communicator, George was a people person, always keen to listen and curious to exchange ideas. His response to the organic chaos of life was highly adaptive, which was invaluable in an artistic practice that spanned construction, lighting, sculpture, painting and drawing, photography and digital media. George had many life skills, beginning as a mechanic, training as a designer and becoming—with Rose—one of Australia’s finest artists. There are few of his calibre, with sophisticated ideas, practical manual skills to match, an ease with language and a way of relating to people. He reminds us that it exceptional artists are exceptional people.

Robert Nelson, Monash University and art critic for The Age.

Rose Farrell & George Parkin are represented by ARC One Galley, Melbourne.

For more information about Rose Farrell & George Parkin, visit the artists’ website or the QCP website.

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