First published: Winter 2013
Parkinson is not what you would expect an outsider artist to be: she is outside the outsiders. She is educated, comes from a stable family background and leads a conventional family life. However, her artwork is still very much that of an outsider and does not fit anywhere else.
At school, Parkinson’s “art teacher would tell her to do work ‘big and bold’”, but Parkinson later developed her own style in isolation during the 1970s and, over the following years, her art was raw and unsophisticated. However, as time went on her style became more robust and emotive, with extra attention being paid to detail. It became more considered and structured instead of being purely a product of her subconscious.
Parkinson started off using Indian ink with old-fashioned mapping pens. In 1977, Parkinson met Herbert Eckert, a friend of Jean Dubuffet. Eckert sent photographs of her work to Dubuffet, to which he responded by praising her work for its originality. Dubuffet subsequently forwarded the photos to Michel Thévoz, the former curator of the Collection de L’Art Brut in Lausanne, who negotiated directly with Parkinson to purchase three drawings in 1978 and 1979 to be part of the Neuve Invention section.
This gave validity to what Parkinson was doing. However, her mother was not happy with this outcome because an artist friend had told her that only “mad people” have work there. She said, “tell Elizabeth to have nothing to do with them”. Instead, Parkinson embraced the situation and pursued her art-making obsessively. She needed to draw every day, although her parents tried to dissuade her. They could not understand it and were also terrified that she would become a “beatnik” and disgrace the family. If she had to create art they wanted her to “paint pretty pictures of nice things”.
Having had no formal training in painting or drawing beyond school, she has developed her own style. Her work, which is often very emotive and reflective of her circumstances at the time, is detailed and striking, and she often draws faces with different expressions and a strong use of colour that exemplifies and amplifies her emotions. This can be seen in Woman with Eczema and Red Snakes, painted when she was suffering from extreme bouts of eczema; Parkinson said that, at that time, she felt like a snake shedding its skin.