Spotlight on an Artist- David Parfitt


David has been on my list of artists to share and talk about for over a year, so it's very exciting to finally get to write this post.  First, there are a few different David Parfitts out there- a movie producer, for example, and even another professional artist!  So, here are links to David's website and Facebook page, to get us all off on the same foot-

David is from the area near Bath, England.  And I would definitely say his work reflects the energy of the landscape in that area.  Some of his work teeters on the edge of abstraction, as you'll see, but other works are clearly in the storied vein of British watercolor landscape work.  He does seem to primarily do watercolor work, but he also does some oils and mixed media, some work on Yupo, some monoprints, and even some really interesting digital work on the iPad that I'll be sharing.  So, it's all very diverse, and yet all very much in his voice.

Let's take a stroll through his oeuvre, and see what there is to see.


Line and Value, Color and Light-

Right from the beginning, there's always been a delicious kind of tension in his work that has drawn me to it.  There's almost always a strong color scheme, knitting the scene together,  against which often plays the delicate, seemingly random, scattered (and yet so very hard to do!) line work (or scratch-work! That too.  Is that even a word yet?), all of which expresses that feeling of verdant order-within-disorder that is so appealing about a walk in the woods or fields.  The combination makes the view feel anything but staged.


Note also how close he brings the branches and grasses to the viewer.  You're often looking through the woods, not at them.  So, you're really inside the subject when he paints these scenes!  I love this.  Almost all of the common cues for depth and perspective are lost in the riot of vegetative life.  Because of this, there's an strong, dynamic relationship between the foreground and middle ground.  Instead of the foreground simply setting the stage for the mid-ground, it duels with it for our attention.   All the detail and line work is in the foreground, pulling your eye in to look at it and stay there, and yet all of that is often framing a view in the mid-ground that has the strongest value contrast.  Back and forth the eye goes.  Yum!


It's interesting to note how these abstract passages, whether full of speckled light and leaves or divided by deep dark line work for grasses or branches, play a critical role in breaking up what are basically broad, texturally low-key washes of strong color.  These abstract marks and lines are an essential half of the line work vs. color work tandem.  Imagine them gone. Without them the paintings are much flatter.  So it's not just about "mood".  They're a very powerful tool for opening areas up spatially and giving a composition life. 

Try this too- Close one eye and let the other go cross-eyed until it's out of focus.  You'll see value better, at which point, of course, it becomes clear just how bonded these two techniques are.  The pale abstract work (leaves and scattered light) is the color work.  The dark line work is trapping the color work.  The line work and the abstract light-work aren't just representing leaves and branches in a wonderfully handson sort of way- they are also what really makes the color sing.



This last year, David was brought in to the Saunders paper mill and did a video.  About half of it is about the paper making process, but, lucky for us, the other half features him painting plein air.  You can see some of his process if you pay attention, particularly as it relates to the line work and color work I've been discussing.

Here's some things to pay attention to as you're watching-

First, it’s worth noticing that there’s no tape.  Given how wet he’s working, and that there’s no buckling, my presumption is that he’s wet the back and stuck it to his backing.  We don’t really know for sure, but given the evidence, that’s my presumption.

0:00- 1.:30 He holds brush at end of the handle, and makes loose expressive brushstrokes that really depend on letting the brush dance and grab hold of the texture of the paper.  In this painting, he starts with his darks to use them as a “key” for the rest of the painting.  You might also notice that he’s not painting his sky.  This allows him to kick right into to doing his dry brush work up top for his trees against a bright (paper) white sky. 

3:00- 4:45  If you look into the trees, you can see the goal is to build mass along the horizon and to capture light within the canopy.  “I can work into it and just make marks.”   At 3:45, he’s working wet into wet, but the lower portion of the paper is still dry.  He has a sort of mini-painting with all hard edges that he’s creating on the spot very rapidly.  It’s only around 4:15 or so, that he begins to bond his darker background shapes down into a lighter mid-ground with a larger wet brush.  With this, he creates wet into wet, in one quick, jittery swoop, a shape that starts at the top of the trees and goes all the way down to the hard edge of the riverbank. 

6:00-  Only towards the end do we see him go in with his darker greens, to cut the edge of the bank and work the deeper values into the still-damp paper up above.  Given the smaller size of the painting, a lot is really done with the rigger.  It’s only towards the end, when he needs to soften his edges or block in larger foreground shapes, that he uses his slightly bigger brushes.


Different Media, Same Language-


One of the really interesting things about David is how diverse his artistic output is, and yet how (like looking through a prism) it is quite clear that they all stem from an individual mentality.  Up top here we have monoprints and a spectacularly lovely black and white photo.  Below we have a variety of sketches he did on his iPad using the Procreate app.


Again and again, there's a propensity for rich line work that adds up to a "death by a thousand paper cuts" sort of textural quality.  If line work could be Pointillist, it would look like this.  It's really unlike almost anyone I've seen do watercolors.  Of course, the lines and values are all he has to work with in these subjects, and so we note them.  They are very strong.  But they are also so pushed hard because they have to do all the heavy lifting that his color choices usually do.  Without his subtle shifting of hues and creation of light through color, many of these pieces border on the completely abstract.  It makes clear how important his color choices are.


If we switch back to some of his darkest, most abstract watercolor paintings, you can clearly see the back-and-forth that must be occurring between these two types of work.  He's definitely not afraid to push his darks or express the power of abstract shapes!


Even if we look at his oils, you can see a pretty clear relationship between his watercolor work and it.  To me, they are very much in the vein of some of Turner's work (definitely meant as a compliment!)- the combination of ambient shifts in hue against occasional vigorous brushwork create expressive abstracts, where the banding that we read as horizons and land forms are reduced to their most essential shapes.


If we come back now, after these oils, to something more traditional, such as these watercolor paintings of his that definitely fall within the English landscape tradition, it's much easier to see the underlying abstract banding.  There's almost a complete lack of detail, no houses really, or even shapes that look specifically like trees.  Instead, a lovely shift in hue over the course of the paintings helps create depth, as well as all those little dots (dark tree-dots now, instead of those light leaf-dots from earlier in the post) that help us trick our minds into perceiving distance.