The Alchemy of Materials with Patricia McParlin

The Alchemy of Materials with Patricia McParlin

December 30, 2021

Patricia McParlin is an award winning British artist who lives and works in Wales. She studied at The University of Wales, (B.A. English Literature, P.G.C.E.) and The West Wales School of the Arts, where she gained her B.A. degree in Fine Art. Winning The Welsh Artist of the Year, (student award), in 2001, and being selected for The National Eisteddfod in 2002, she has also been recently selected, (2017), as a member of The Royal Cambrian Academy.

Primarily an abstract painter, she has also worked as a teacher, musician, writer and theatre practitioner. She has exhibited widely and her work has been purchased by corporate and individual collectors, both nationally and internationally.


What initially drew your towards becoming an artist?

From birth, I lived in my grandparents house, along with my parents…there was a ‘middle room’ where I could go and do whatever I wanted literally…!…It was a ‘junk room’…but, for me as a child, filled with the most magical things…screws, nails, pieces of whalebone, gas masks, an old range, a gramophone…I was told that I could ‘do what I liked’…I remember ripping the horn off the gramophone, putting paper over the spindle, winding it up and pouring paint on it..letting the paint spin…I also drew, painted and chalked on the walls. We were a working class family, and I don’t think there was any intent in these permissions…but, looking back, it was probably hugely influential for me as an artist.

Later at primary school, I had a teacher called Mrs Poole. She was clearly very keen on Art, and this was all we did for the year I spent with her. It may have been during this time that we spent some time drawing and painting outside at the school. I became interested in the little, green, ‘turret’ type objects that were on the roof of the school… I did some kind of ‘abstracted’ paintings of them. My teacher thought they were good, and they were mounted and put on show in the school. I recall this very clearly…it was as if the grown ups had put a tick in the art box for me…!…teachers can be hugely influential when you are young, and the fact that I had received praise and public recognition mattered.

Secondary school also had triggers…My art teacher was Granville John…Looking back, he supported me in every way he could. When I went to his class, he would allow me to do whatever I liked, and use any materials available. Apparently, he told my parents that I was a genius…!…They never told me until I was in my fifties…Perhaps that was a good thing…!…Strangely, I gave up Art in my third year, and didn’t really go to school after that..Life outside was far more interesting…!…but I randomly turned up and asked Granville if I could do O level Art…He was fine about it…a great guy.

I later got a place in Art college, when I was 17, but hadn’t realised that I couldn’t get a grant to study until I was 18. In the interim, I did an English Literature A level in night class, and was somehow persuaded by the teacher that I should do an English degree… which is what I went on to do… I still painted all the way through…

I do regret allowing myself to be swayed, as I always knew Art was right for  me..but who knows where all the side paths lead? I continued to persist with Art, and always intended to do a Fine Art degree…That was realised in 2003.


How would you describe your own personal style?

I am predominately an abstract painter, who is also drawn to landscape and the natural world. I am very interested in the alchemy of materials, mark making and the manipulation of the painted surface. I aim to inhabit my work with some sense of ‘soul’, and hopefully tenderness and respect for its origin.

What pushed you in that direction and how can you see you work evolving in the future?

I guess exploration…and constant practice…I feel it’s analogous to music…most serious players gravitate towards Jazz…towards improvisation…towards a constant evolution…I’m also a musician, and I think that has been a big influence in my work…I often work from music…mine or others…and my writing…I think it all comes from the same source…

I very much like the work of Neil Canning…I want to become even more loose and minimal in my work..but to still have that powerful essence… 

What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel?

For me, I think it’s moments of ‘seeing’….really seeing…I am particularly drawn to the colours and forms of twilight..those crystal clear, translucent moments when all the ochres and blues are set against the black forms.

I am always looking…and anything from car paint spray on a garage wall to a small mark on a pavement can be an inspiration…

Are there particular individuals who have encouraged/inspired you along the way, friends, family, teachers, maybe even other artists?

I’ve already mentioned some inspirational teachers…in the early days.


When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you like to use?

I tend to work in mixed media…generally with acrylics underneath….I hardly ever use brushes anymore…aside from for large surface areas..and maybe fine detail. I use all manner of tools…!…rollers, rags, palette knives, brayers, screws, filling knives..and also ‘found’ implements…sticks, feathers..also my hands..!…My favourite tool is a long 7” screw…

When it comes to the subject matter of your work, what draws you to those themes?

I often work from music…my own and others…usually, but not exclusively instrumental…I find that lyrics can sometimes overpower an open’s much more about mood and feeling… I also work from my own poetry at times…Haiku’s and short pieces mostly…Nature and the landscape are hugely important in my work…and I’m always looking…and feeling…I like to work en plain air when I can, to really get a sense of place and mood….to really feel it…

I think for me, the subject matter can come from many sources, but I tend to gravitate towards condensed, layered moments…metaphor would be a good literary analogy…

Could you describe the process behind your art? How do you get from concept to execution?

Sometimes there will be things percolating in the background for a while..ideas forming…from photographs, sketches, found images, moments…I tend to make notes and put visual references in a sketchbook….and I will use these to begin…

From there it’s a case of starting…!…My process is to be involved in a continual dialogue with the work…constantly looking…asking questions…taking risks..and sometimes, moments of clarity..and bliss…!


Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is a more a case of when the moment is right you work?

Well, like anyone else, it’s usually chores first..all the usual stuff…being self-employed as an artist involves a lot of work on the computer…answering emails, updating websites, publicising work /courses etc…I find I work best later in the day…once all that is done…It’s only then I can have the focus needed.

When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time?

This varies…I find it best to work on 2/3 pieces at the same time…for continuity, but also for practicality in terms of drying times…Also working in this way can spark ideas and processes from one to the other. If it’s a large piece, or a commission, I will generally work exclusively on that piece.

How has your art evolved to be where it is today?

It’s taken a long time…!…and a lot of investigation/experimentation…In the early days, my art was more representational..and sometimes, that aspect returns in small details/structures/lines…but my work has progressively become more concerned with abstraction…this has been a natural progression. I became increasingly drawn towards expressive mark making and the alchemy of materials.. I feel this work is a more accurate and complete expression of my creative focus.

Which of your artworks are you most proud?

I have a few favourites…!…but I think I am most proud of a work called ‘Nightswimming’…. It was produced amongst a large body of work for a solo show, ‘Songlands’ in 2019. I love the balance between order and chaos, calmness and frenzy, dark and light in it….and for me, it represented a distinct development in my work.

Is there a fellow artist alive today that you admire? If so, why?

There are many…!…but I would say that Neil Canning stands out for me…I’ve mentioned him before…I love his work, and admire the bravery, expression and confidence of his composition…Roger Cecil is sadly passed…but I adore his work…


If you could travel back in time, is there a particular artistic period / era that you would like to have been involved in?

Weirdly, the first thing that came to mind was The Stone Age…I love the vitality, honesty and immediacy of the cave paintings…they really ’speak’ of the times when they were made…My second choice would probably be when the Impressionists were gaining ground…

What challenges do you feel the 21st century artist has to overcome?

The same challenges as ever over time for any artist…making a living…making work…finding space and time to make the work..finding representation and galleries that will respect what you do…getting recognised…The new factor is all the ramifications of the internet, NFT’s etc…a double edged sword…

What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?

Do it…!!!…It’s maybe not the greatest career path if you want to make money…but, if you love it, and you can’t not do it…then you have to…Also to keep looking…closely and constantly, and to be true to your own essence. 

Despite having developed your own distinctive style, is their another style of art that you are immediately drawn  towards and admire? Why?

I like a lot of other styles, and feel it’s important to look at them, and never stop exploring…I guess I am drawn towards some photo realistic art that also has a deeper/metaphorical feeling…Chuck Close, for example…


We have all heard of the unfinished masterpiece, even Da Vinci laboured away at the Mona Lisa for years and years, have you works that are in a continual process of evolution? When working on an artwork do you find it hard to let go? Knowing when enough is enough?

Yes, I have had certain pieces that have taken years to complete…but I seem to always know when a work is finished..for me, the rule is that when I start ’tinkering’…and it starts to not’s done…stop..!…but I can usually tell before that point.

Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expression your creative nature?

I’ve never been much good at making ‘political’ art…I wish I was..That’s why I admire Banksy…!…I think it’s a really specialist skill…I like to think that I advocate for the wonder of the natural world..and the beauty of a response to honouring…

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on some collaborations with other artists…Over some years, I have developed a method of working collaboratively…involving repeatedly ’swapping’ canvasses, critical analysis, isolation etc towards a finished piece…I find it a really useful and productive process, both for the work produced and developing critical skills. It is great for exploration and learning new ways to work with materials. Also the resulting work is always fresh and engaging.


Have you ever been part of an artistic group / movement? How did your work benefit from that experience?

I am currently part of a group called Y Ty Celf…which is local to me…despite my reservations, it has been hugely beneficial, in terms of meeting other artists in the area and opening up opportunities for teaching and running courses etc…

I’m also a member of The Royal Cambrian Academy, which is very helpful in showing and promoting my work.

When is your next exhibition? Is it a solo or group exhibition? Could you tell us a little about the exhibition, when and where it is?

My next exhibition is with The Royal Cambrian Academy, in October 2022. I have been a member since 2017. It is entitled ‘Into Winter’, and will take place at The Academy in Conwy, Wales.

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