Gangsters give ex-boxer inspiration to create wealth of artwork

Mature student Andy Parkin's 'Strangeways to Art' exhibition
Mature student Andy Parkin's 'Strangeways to Art' exhibition
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An artist has taken inspiration from the criminal underworld as he straightens out his own mental health through his work.

Ex-boxer Andy Parkin was diagnosed as bi-polar three years ago and discovered creating work was the perfect therapy to deal with his condition and channel his new-found creativity.

A piece from Andy Parkin's exhibition.

A piece from Andy Parkin's exhibition.

He had never drawn or painted in the past, but has since embarked on a fine art degree at Sunderland University and has set his heart on achieving a first in his second year.

As part of his studies, he put on a display of work, Strangeways to Art, which is tied in with the theme of notorious criminals and prison.

A good luck card from Charles Bronson, know as Charles Salvador, considered Britain’s most violent prisoner and images of the Kray Twins and The Guv’nor Lenny McClean feature among the pieces on show, while a bedhead depicting a jail’s gym and an old notice board from Sunderland Magistrates’ Court also appear.

It was partly sparked off after Andy spotted a door from Dartmoor prison on sale at Boldon Auction Rooms, with his wife Juin putting a stop to him putting in a bid because of its £900 guide price.

It’s a good message to send out to other people, that mental illness doesn’t define you and you can turn a negative into a positive and through art, he’s been able to express himself.

Kate Parkin

Instead, he transformed an old coffee table into an interpretation of it, with other pieces relating to cells and doors made to run alongside it.

The 55-year-old’s show at the Priestman Building in Sunderland city centre saw his daughter Kate, 36, who is in her final year as a psychology student at the same university, dress up as a convict and offer visitors porridge and moonshine.

Andy, from Seaburn, has also included works linked to boxing, as he was a light middleweight boxer as a teenager, when he fought for the ABA’s British title against Dudley McKenzie in 1978 at the age of 17.

The former Castle View School pupil lost the match on points at the Bloomsbury Crescent Hotel in London and gave up the sport the next year.

Andy, who is also dad to Andrea, 32, and Abby, 34, and a grandfather-of-five, went on to work as a bricklayer until doctors found he had a cyst on the brain when he was 40, then suffered a heart attack at 42.

He then became a debt collector before then changing his career to art with his bi-polar diagnosis.

Andy, who has struck up a friendship with Bronson and joined other pals for a party held in a pub near to the prison for his last birthday, said: “I had highs and lows but I never knew I had this chemical imbalance in my brain and had never before drawn or painted in my life.

“It was like a therapy and I would recommend it to anybody.

Boxing provided some of the inspiration for artwork by the mature student.

Boxing provided some of the inspiration for artwork by the mature student.

“If it wasn’t for this, I’d be gone.”

Kate added: “We are all extremely proud of him.

“His work has really improved.

“It’s a good message to send out to other people, that mental illness doesn’t define you and you can turn a negative into a positive and through art, he’s been able to express himself.”

Andy, who is also inspired by Salvador Dali, is due to appear in My Name is Lenny, a film written by McClean’s son Jamie, within a boxing scene, with the feature to be release next year.

He is hoping to take his collection on tour to show it to a wider audience and tell people his story.

The exhibition was put on with the support of his family and art technicans Peter Wolland, Dave Aldridge, Dave Stevens, Hannah Gawne and Graham Mitchinson over two days.

Big names from the criminal underworld appear in the work.

Big names from the criminal underworld appear in the work.

A bust of Charles Bronson, decorated with a policeman's hat.

A bust of Charles Bronson, decorated with a policeman's hat.