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Simon makes mark on art.

Byline: By David Whetstone

In Simon Parish's hand, the humble marker pen is a brilliant artist's tool, as David Whetstone reports.

As many an artist or sports star will tell you, stunning simplicity can take years to achieve.

Picasso abandoned his art school style to mimic the artistic impulses of a child. Cristiano Ronaldo may have won Player of the Year with his circus tricks but most effective footballers are praised for doing the simple thing.

Simon Parish wrestled with oil paints on big canvases but is now attracting attention by making pictures with marker pens.

These vividly coloured highlighters are marketed more as stationery than as an artist's tool but in Simon's hand they are used for translating sometimes complex thoughts into deceptively simple pictures.

You can see why people want to buy them and why Simon is being invited to show at fairs such as Art Futures in London, where he exhibited in March. He was also shortlisted for the prestigious Jerwood Drawing Prize.

Sarah Furniss, curator of Red Box Gallery in Newcastle, is delighted to have secured an exhibition by an artist she believes is going places.

Yesterday Simon, who lives in Gateshead, explained how he came to art relatively late.

He was born in Middlesex and moved with his family to Warwickshire at the age of 12. After leaving school at 16 he did a number of jobs, working for several years for a concrete construction company.

"A big change happened for me when I went travelling for a number of years," said the artist, now 43.

"Some of the people I met started to connect me to art but I was 28 when I started my foundation course at Mid-Warwickshire College of Further Education."

His travels had taken him away for more than three years, through North and Central America and then to Japan where he spent 18 months. Based in Tokyo, he earned a living by teaching English but also started to visit art galleries and museums.

He returned to England when his father fell ill. Consoled by the fact he had more money in his pocket than when he left, he was determined not to work in an office again. "Art started to feel right and you do look back and think maybe I should have gone to college when I was 18," he reflected. "But I think I needed to do those other things."

At Red Box, surrounded by some of his latest work, he explained how many of his pictures are inspired by photographs snipped out of newspapers.

"A photograph in a newspaper will often have been cropped and presented in a certain way so decisions have already been taken about it, but I'll see something worthy of further investigation," he said. Isolated from its original context, the photo's subject will take on a new life as the stuff of art.

Displayed at one remove from their original newspaper appearance are small paintings showing an aeroplane flying in front of the moon and of a batch of pens in a box. A rare human presence is a silhouette against a set of Venetian blinds with the colourful scene beyond shining through in psychedelic rods.

One picture is called Battered Banyan Tree. "It's one of my favourites," said Simon.

You couldn't know the story behind the mutilated tree but knowing it adds another dimension. Simon saw it in a photo illustrating a story about the tree which stands on a roundabout in Jakarta. While some people said it had spiritual properties and should be preserved, others, to prove that it did not, laid into it with blades.

That the tree became a photo which inspired an artist to make a painting which is now on show in Newcastle and costs pounds 800 at least shows the tree had properties unforeseen by its attackers.

Some pictures were based on photographs taken by Simon himself, including a series called Out of Season comprising marker pen images of wrapped caravans, 50cms by 70cms, pounds 500 apiece.

"I went to Corsica and cycled around for three weeks, off season. On this particular campsite were these caravans wrapped up for the winter. They were these shroud-like objects, a bit eerie in a way."

Simon knew about Christo, the legendary artist who wrapped up buildings, and made a connection. But even if you haven't heard of Christo, these bizarre pictures will hold your attention. "I think the subjects I paint tap into a world we all sort of know," said Simon.

Aptly called Magpie, you can see Simon Parish's exhibition at Red Box Gallery, St Nicholas Chare, Newcastle, until June 8. The gallery opens Tuesday to Thursday, 10am to 4pm. Also showing are prints by Frans Widerberg, the celebrated Norwegian artist.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 24, 2007
Words:793
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