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School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

Jonathan Parker: Familiarity and Mystery Exhibition and Symposium

28th April 2017, 14:00, Trevelyan College, Durham University

Jonathan Parker is one of the most important artists currently working in the United Kingdom. Born in Belfast in 1968, he was educated in London and served apprenticeships in both Spain and Cuba, before graduating in Art History from Northumbria University in 1992. In the same year he won the Royal Academy Richard Ford Award with a promise to develop his feel for time through painting. This was inspired by two seemingly disparate experiences: on the one hand, being with his grandmother in the great house of Wallington in Northumberland (a lively existence within a frozen museum space) alongside a taste of life in the ‘Socialism or Death’ heat of Havana, where he had his first breakthrough one-man show, aged 22: Dibujos/Drawings (May 1991). Parker’s exhibitions with Mercury Gallery in Cork Street (1997–2000) subsequently placed his work in relation to twentieth-century British and European art, and showed how breaking new ground, within a figurative tradition, can be valued by art collectors and critics alike. The dealer Gillian Raffles (now retired) considered Parker’s paintings to have a mystery and poetry which are now rarely found in painters, brought into his work from his feeling for light. The artist is currently working on The Time and Tide Collection and Standing Figures.

Parker and Durham University

As a member of the Trevelyan family, Jonathan Parker has a longstanding association with Durham University and the North East. Trevelyan College was named after G. M. Trevelyan, Master of Trinity College Cambridge and a Chancellor of Durham University. On the other hand, the Trevelyan family’s Northumbrian seat, until the death of the last surviving resident, Patricia Jennings (née Trevelyan), in 2014, was at Wallington Hall, now a National Trust property. Patricia lived in a first-floor apartment that was also a holiday destination for her grandson, Jonathan. Periodically before her death, and for a sustained period afterwards, this was his studio.

Over the past few years Trevelyan College has commissioned or acquired a number of portraits and landscape/interiors by the artist, exhibited to great effect around the College’s High Table, in a dining room whose facing walls sport a series of large abstract canvasses by John Walker, specially commissioned for the venue. Two of Parker’s paintings are featured in detail in Spanish Art in County Durham, edited by Clare Baron and Andy Beresford, where the latter reflects on the influence of the Spanish painter, Zurbarán, whose Cycle of Jacob and his Twelve Sons makes enigmatic appearances in some of his work.

Durham University is seeking to expand this collection by acquiring six additional paintings from the Wallington Series. Half of the £75,000 cost has already been raised, while DARO will source the remainder through alumni donation. This will bring the number of Parker paintings owned by the University to twelve:

(a) Recent Acquisitions:

  • The Future Looks Up, The Past Looks Down (2011).
  • The Twelve Tribes of Israel (2011).
  • Portrait of Deborah Lavin, Principal, Trevelyan College, 1979–95.
  • Portrait of Martyn Evans, Principal, Trevelyan College, 2008–present.
  • Portrait of Nigel Martin, Principal, Trevelyan College, 2000–08.
  • Portrait of George Marshall, Principal, Trevelyan College 1995–96.

(b) Acquisitions in Progress:

  • South West Corner (What Shall I Do?). 210cm x 140cm, 2010–12.
  • Central Hall (Time and Tide). 160cm x 140cm, 2012.
  • Crossing the Courtyard. 150cm x 130cm, 2012.
  • To the Front Park. 150cm x 130cm, 2012.
  • Central Hall (Landing). 150cm x 130cm, 2013–15.
  • Great Western (Sitting Room). 130cm x 119cm, 2013–15.

This collection is significant not solely in terms of its relationship to Durham University and the North East, but in its extraordinary level of artistic accomplishment. Parker’s gift is in using a relatively limited palette to evoke finite variations in colour. His paintings routinely explore recognizable people and places, whilst melding past with present, inside with outside, and reality with memory. The result is a certain haunting, surreal, dream-like quality, in which the familiar and the fantastic succeed in achieving a form of impossible resolution.

Parker Symposium

To celebrate the collection of Parker paintings and to bring the works of the artist to a wider audience, a symposium will be held at Trevelyan College on Friday, 28 April 2017. This will play a major part in the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the College’s founding in 1966. The symposium will include presentations from art specialists, both within CVAC and beyond, as well as art dealers and collectors. It will also include contributions from Auckland Castle as well as historians of the Trevelyan family.

Contact a.m.beresford@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.