Breathing Life Through Art

The word retirement usually conjures up images of lazy days sitting in the sun, reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in hand – not so for artist Alison Parkinson.  Alison has enjoyed a very full life as a portraitist, landscape artist, sculptor, jewellery maker, French polisher and teacher, however when asked about retirement. Alison says, “I’ve never been busier and I’m loving it”.  Alison has had exhibitions, both solo and collaborative, in various commercial galleries around Australia.  Most recently she had a very successful show of portraits at the Backspace Gallery – operated by the Art Gallery of Ballarat and Daylesford’s Convent Gallery.  She also has work in private and corporate collections, both in Australia and internationally.

A farm girl born in Warracknabeal, Alison comes from a creative family. When her father and brother ceased farming and leased the land, they repaired pianos, piano players and with Dad taking up wrought iron work and built furniture, while her brother took up clock making.  Amidst all this activity, Alison’s mother always had creative things on the kitchen table – sewing and a prize winning cake decorating.

Alison moved to Ballarat for art school for four years, followed by marriage, children, running antique shops, a move to Queensland, then back to Warracknabeal, further study in Horsham then Melbourne where she continued her art pursuits, including a career in restoration and French polishing. 

Alison’s next life move was to Mt. Prospect, where her body told her that her time as a French polisher was over.  “There is just so long you can breathe in toxic fumes,” Alison said.  What soon followed was a teaching tenure at the Art Gallery of Ballarat with an emphasis on life drawing.  While at the Gallery one of her students brought in a lump of modelling clay, which Alison found to be amazingly tactile – enter another creative pursuit, sculpting and modelling.

Asked if she drew her subjects from life or photographs, Alison said, “Life, always life – I love drawing and painting from life, but to capture moving gestures, I will use a camera. But all my larger portraits and drawings come from life”.  Alison uses a lot of colour in her paintings, but by contrast, her monochrome drawings, particularly those of the human form are movingly dramatic.  Many of her portraits stem from a spontaneous view of her subject.  As an example, she explained how she captured one of her easily recognisable portraits of Creswick café owner Willie Schaap.  “I was having a coffee with a friend when Willie started clearing tables and the swift and lithe movement of her body inspired me to paint her portrait.  I asked her just to briefly stop what she was doing so I could take her photo, from which I painted her portrait.  I endeavour to get a spontaneous capturing of the personality or an emotion when doing a portrait.”

The COVID lockdown hasn’t slowed Alison in any way.  She has set herself a twelve month project to paint the volcanic hills that surround her home in Mt. Prospect.  Known locally as the Seven Hills, Alison sees the agricultural changes that occur throughout the year and her aim is to capture each season with all its variances.  She is aiming to complete one hundred paintings in the series and has over forty complete so far.

The word retirement is not one to daunt this prolific artist – in fact, she is loving it.  She says, “I can choose the shape of my day and I’m more productive than I have ever been.

Visit Alison’s website, and you can find her on Facebook and Instagram.