When I was growing up, I got used to this typical response to my surname: “Are you Monty’s daughter?”
Artist/musician/writer/poet/historian… dad’s talents were abundant, and people often wondered whether I’d inherited any. If I had, it wasn’t obvious.
“I didn’t realise you had such a brilliant dad!” came the reaction of an elderly lady I’d met through my Saturday job aged about 18. “Not that you’re not brilliant! But, you know, he really is.”
A fair appraisal.
Banishing himself away in his studio, I knew never to enquire too much about what he was up to.
Occasionally, small sounds would offer a hint to his current activity – the faint thrum of his guitar, a Dictaphone being rewound, or the muddy contents of a water pot splashing onto the grass.
I’d hear these noises in the summer, when basking at the top of the garden. Framed by the studio’s large window, dad would peer over his easel, offering a grin and a cheery wave. It made me happy knowing that I’d made him smile.
One day last month, as I lay in my favourite sun-spot, that familiar sensation came over me. An outline teased the corner of my eye; if I looked around, would dad be waving at me through the pane?
Of course not. The figure was merely caused by the reflection of hazelnut tree branches roving in the breeze. But that didn’t stop me staring into the studio, willing that blurred memory in my mind to muster some photo-like accuracy.
Tentatively, I moved inside to contemplate dad’s abandoned studio. In a space once so vibrant, damp had become the prevailing scent, while spiders offered the sole sign of life. The phone that once never stopped ringing sat dumb like a toy.
Pointlessly sharpened pencils lay next to an unused drawing pad, while a pallid palette gathered dust. Creaky cupboards were overflowing with letters, – telegrams even – transcripts of made-up stories my brother and I had adored, poems, song lyrics, not to mention hundreds of self portraits. Sketches or drafts deemed unsatisfactory to him lay crumpled at the bottom of a cobwebbed drawer, but to me, these are masterpieces.
Decades of personal journals beckon me to defy their vow of confidentiality. I devour dad’s musings, ranging from political to romantic and exuberant to desperate. Fascinating doodles adorn the margins, as do newly discovered words and even jokes – did he make these up or were they someone else’s? I’ll never know. I discover more about his childhood than he ever divulged, while passages about his art school years read like the autobiography of a Beatle or a Rolling Stone. Of course, any mentions of my mum, brother and me in the later entries are what I desperately scan for. When I find them, they provide huge comfort, as does stumbling across a small sketch of my mum asleep on the sofa among a mass of old photographs, or baby drawings of my brother and I on scraps of paper.
My greatest fear since dad’s death has been that I’ll forget about him. His legacy as an artist may have granted him some form of immortality, but what about those seemingly banal moments, like the studio wave, that only we shared?
When someone’s alive only in your remembrance, memories can fade. I suppose that’s why I find myself so drawn to dad’s studio. It may be grimy now, but for me it’s a precious time capsule where he’ll never die.
Based in London, Anna Parkin is a freelance arts journalist and co-founder of the Monty Parkin Memorial Trust
More about A.M. Parkin can be found here: http://www.amparkin.co.uk/