Glass visits the Stash Gallery for the opening night of Molly Parkin Retrospective at 85 (1957-2017)

MOLLY Parkin is an unmistakeable figure, and I spot her the instant I walk into her party at Stash Gallery. She’s wearing black ruffles, a sculptural hat, and large sunglasses, and she looks wonderful; simultaneously au courant and timeless: my favourite look. There isn’t much in this world that can draw my eye from a well-dressed individual, but the seascape hanging on the far wall manages to. It’s mesmerising: powerful, menacing and inviting. I hadn’t known that Molly Parkin created art like this. I’d been expecting a room of vibrant portraits (and there are many of these). I realise that a woman I’ve long admired for her talent in so many fields, has surprised me yet again.

Portrait of molly with My Garden 2.2017Portrait of Molly with My Garden 2017

In the brief biography of Molly Parkin which accompanies the exhibition, there are at least 20 talking points, any one of which a less versatile woman could have dined out on for a lifetime. Molly Parkin has been a maker of hats and bags for Biba in 1964; Fashion Editor at Nova and the Sunday Times; the lover and beloved of many famous men including playwright John Mortimer and musician Bo Diddley; friend and muse to art and fashion luminaries.

Indian beauty 1. 2006Indian beauty by Molly Parkin 2006

Having enjoyed great acclaim as a Fashion Editor, Molly Parkin went on to write popular novels: ten funny and sexy books, all with outrageously punning titles that delighted, scandalised – and almost certainly educated – the British public in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Part of Parkin’s success as a novelist was that she is a fabulous raconteur with amazing style and huge sex appeal, and so Molly Parkin appearing on TV was an event. Molly was often on after the watershed – the moral line and fixed time that protected the children of ‘70s Britain from anything too risqué. However, so widely and genuinely adored was Molly, that despite being the very definition of risqué, children across the nation were allowed to stay up past their bedtime to watch Molly dazzle. At school the next day, we talked about her appearance with the excitement usually reserved for playground discussions of Top of the Pops. Molly Parkin on TV was an event.

Chat-show success led to a successful one-woman show, and then at 55, to sobriety. An unexpected twist to avid followers of Molly’s tale, but one that she has stuck to with the same inspiring gusto, pleasure and confidence in her own choices that she has shown throughout her life. Alcohol’s loss was art’s gain: since finding sobriety 30 years ago, Molly has painted continuously.

The earliest work on show at the Stash Gallery is Picasso’s birthplace Malaga Spain; oil on board and painted in 1958, when Molly Parkin was 26. The most recent is Mutton, a self-portrait acrylic on canvas that was painted last week. Molly says it’s her favourite. It’s one of the two pieces (the other a wildly beautiful seascape) that are not for sale. Fifty-six other works range in price between the ‘small and affordable to the large and ostentatiously expensive’: a description that is charming and disarmingly frank, and so absolutely Molly Parkin.

Mutton self portrait by molly parkin 2017Mutton self-portrait by Molly Parkin 2017

Molly Parkin is a legend: it is true to say that she pushed the boundaries of age, gender, class and sexuality – but even more truthful to say that she seduced the seemingly rigid boundaries into falling at her feet.

And what becomes a legend most? Not a Blackglama fur, (wonderful though the 1968 ad campaign was), but a retrospective of work as fascinating as this. The Stash Gallery is part of the private member’s bar Vout-O-Reenees, so do set aside an evening to visit. You will want to wander back to look at Parkin’s canvases more than once from the comfort and glamour of this well-appointed bar. And if you’re thinking of buying, don’t wait too long to make your visit: Molly Parkin’s art is as impossible to resist as she is. Just two hours after opening, many of the works had sold. One, I’m very pleased to say, to me.

by Rachel McCormack

Molly Parkin Retrospective at 85 (1957-2017) is on at The Stash Gallery in the crypt of 30 Prescot St, London, E1 8BB. The show opens on February 10 and runs until March 20

The Stash Gallery is open from Tues-Sat 5-11pm: during the day please call 07753702910 for an appointment.