David, congratulations on being selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016, could you tell us a bit about your shortlisted piece ‘Wetland Blues’?
Thank you, I am honoured to have been selected for this prestigious exhibition with my painting Wetland blues. It is pure watercolour, on a full sheet of Arches Cold Pressed paper. It was completed in the studio and depicts a winter view across the Somerset wetlands from a viewpoint on my favourite part of the Mendip Hills. This place has a very special meaning to me and somewhere I constantly revisit in my work. I have attempted here to capture the drama of the afternoon sky against a dark, almost medieval and partly flooded landscape, using a series of transparent washes in a fairly traditional way.
You work primarily in water based media, what is it about this medium that suits your approach?
I have to admit I am passionate about watercolour. It’s the fluidity and uncontrollable nature which I find endlessly fascinating; the accidents that occur and finding how the medium can be used to express and convey a feeling for the moods and atmosphere of the landscape.
Are there any artists that have significantly influenced your style or process?
I have a number of influences or at least artists I admire, but as a watercolour painter it will be no surprise that Turner’s watercolours and later oils have had a huge influence on me. Constable’s sketches were a joy to study and hold at the V&A and I always seek out Corot in the National Gallery. More recently I have been studying Arthur Melville’s watercolour process and the early work of Piet Mondrian.
What is your typical starting point for a landscape painting?
Once I have settled on a subject I stare at the blank sheet of paper for quite a period of time contemplating the painting ahead. I don’t initially make any pencil marks on the surface or use masking medium, so need to fix the composition in my mind and work out where the main areas of dark and light will be before making the first mark or putting on the first wash.
Whilst your works are representational, they also have an ethereal, expressive quality. Are you very deliberate and considered when painting or is it more of an experimental, instinctive process?
Thank you. I think my process is probably a combination of all these things. My aim is to create something which has a sense of place without looking too contrived or indeed, deliberate. On the other hand, I am obsessed with making paintings without the use of opaque or white pigment. It’s not an easy balance as I feel too that the process is about experimenting, learning and developing, while attempting to push the water-based medium as far as I can.
Does your current work have a specific focus and are there any new paintings that you’re working on at the moment?
I have become rather preoccupied lately with painting the river which is about a 10 minute stroll from my studio. I used to walk along it with my Grandfather when I was a child so it holds special memories. Of course, I have painted the river often but this is a familiar theme, as I mentioned above, whereby I tend to revisit places and respond to views which have a particular meaning to me. Something I hope to subconsciously convey in my work. And, talking about work, I am currently preparing for Somerset Open Studios (17 September-2 October) and the RI members fundraising exhibition ‘Splash’, which will be held in The Mall Galleries 8-13 November.
David Parfitt’s piece Wetland Blues will be exhibited as part of The Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London from 19-24 September.