When I think of a painting that I want to make, it comes in a great rush to my mind and I want to paint it then and there. It is always a complete, sudden, vocal and dramatic feeling, and I wish I could employ someone else to make it for me, because ideas come too fast for my ability to paint them. I try to invest them with inner strength and a meaningful, personal thread that the viewer can uncover. Perhaps something in the painting will resonate for them in their own experience. They may have to rummage through the dusty attic of my education though, opening tiresome and irrelevant boxes, but if the painting conveys a rich undercurrent of meaning and emotion both for me and the person who comes to see it, then I am happy.

We leave our own traces in life for a short while, like cup-marks on a stone. They reflect our life-force and sense of being, even if it is only just as a momentary glimmer in a darkening universe. Symbols are by nature, also secrets, and everyone loves to try and unravel a secret. I use a lot of symbols and often at the end of the work, the entire image becomes a symbol. They are often a cover for simple emotions best kept to oneself. It is easy for a painting to become too subjective, a private thing made public, a confession, a bid for attention, a need to be heard. My symbols help me hide things that are too much about me, so that a more universal statement can come through.

They also help to conceal my own spiritual reflections on the strength, wisdom and experience of my biological ancestors. There is almost always an allusion to the trajectory of former lives rather than what comes along after life. I have a great reverence for my antecedents and I feel them here, in the process and language of my painting. I want to do them justice, and I do it all as a matter of urgency, becoming neurotic about putting off death until I am good and ready, and have finished what I'm doing. Thus, each painting seems to come with its own in-built panic attack. Time is running out.

I set out my symbols as the poetry and the sensory shorthand of life as I see it. Hats, birds, boats, ear-rings, contrails, natural forms made into formulas, universal forms, a French green dash on a blue-green ground, a ‘Ruckenfigur’, nymphs, runes, script, poetry, over-written script, human figures, snakes, tidal waves, rough painting, tight painting, sometimes both. Even portraits cease to be representational to me. They carry so much that is sublimated, the desires and the follies and secrets of individual lives. I didn’t set out to be a symbolist and I'm not sure that I am. I know it is a useless pidgeon-hole and who cares anyway? There is nothing special or grand about it. But I like the fact that the codes and ciphers of my own existence can sit comfortably disguised within the language of the pictures and become part of a connection with the lives of others, and the cultural and historic bond that holds us all together. Beyond that, I suppose they are just a puzzle to be solved.

Phil Parker

Symbolist Manifesto *
Saint Brendan the Navigator