Biography

Cyril Harry Parfitt was born on 6th February 1914 in Norwich, Norfolk. He attended the prestigious Gateway School in Leicester and won a scholarship to Leicester College of Art where he studied for three years.

While at College his passions were art and music and he played the accordion well as a young man. He went on to play both piano and electric keyboard which he still enjoys. He spoke fluent German and cited the reason for learning it as wanting to enjoy reading Goethe in the language it was written. His early career saw him serve an apprenticeship as a lithographic artist.

Cyril about to start painting in his Ramsgate flat

Cyril exhibiting in Soho Square Gardens, London W1, July 2004.

Cyril exhibiting in Soho Square Gardens, London W1, July 2004.

He worked as a graphic designer in Leicester where his work was frequently seen on many well know products, until he joined the army at the outbreak of World War II. Because of his experience as a litho artist he was eventually posted to Wales where he was trained in the art of map making and given the task of drafting invasion maps. Here he was to establish a special friendship with the renowned artist Terence Cuneo. Of this enduring friendship he had many interesting anecdotes. He was also given a wonderful sketch Cuneo did of him as a young soldier and several letters from him.

He created a cartoon character called 'The Git' and produced a book featuring it in various guises.  David Hands of the Disney Corporation, then setting up in England, approached him and offered him a job which he declined.

Taking this skill with him at the end of the War he joined a new Government Department, ‘The Directorate of Overseas Surveys’ (DOS) where he ran his own experimental section. Here he was nicknamed The Wizard of DOS such was his extraordinary talent and problem solving abilities. One of his colleagues once said ‘You can put Cyril in a room with absolutely nothing and he will still somehow manage to produce something utterly wonderful’.

Utilising his previous printing experience and knowledge he was responsible for designing and supervising colour proofing on specialised relief maps. He innovated new approaches to relief effects and developed a technique for photo mapping. 

He prepared international exhibitions and his special maps were acclaimed by world wide cartographic establishments. Two such pieces were exhibited at the Design Centre in London. His contribution to mapping was written about and included in a book produced by the National Geographic Magazine.

He has designed posters, brochures and logos as a designer, invented games and a pencil shading device and has always been fascinated by working with magnets. He has made many decorative roundabouts featuring coloured lights and powered by hot air.

A love of fireworks saw him making them in his garden shed.  A ready supply of chemicals came from his wife as she was working as a dispensing chemist at the time.  Fortunately 'the elf' (and safety) wasn't around in those days. Many sparks flew and loud bangs ensued and Cyril was lucky to emerge virtually unscathed having only lost his eyebrows and been rendered  temporarily deaf after one such attempt created a rather powerful explosion as it ripped through the shed roof.  He also enjoyed making rocket boats which he memorably let lose on the water in Bushy Park and  were reported on in the book 'Mapping the World' about the history of the Ordnance Survey.  There is also a section in the book on his handiwork in mapping Mount Kenya.

Cyril with his painting at the Great Wall of Ramsgate

Cyril with his painting at the Great Wall of Ramsgate

His early paintings have always been of a whimsical nature although he is a competent artist in the conventional style with landscape being a favourite subject. His portraiture and pencil drawings have a lightness and sensitivity much admired. 

His fantasy sculptural pieces have been produced in clay and his moving sculptures utilise an assortment of bright and colourful ‘odds and ends’ he has salvaged and stored, truly ‘green’ pieces of work. He has always had an eye for the bright and glittering, the vivid and arresting and toyed with the idea of working with stained glass at one point in his career. He has appeared on television with his creations and his work has been sold in galleries both in the UK and internationally.

Many of his pieces of artwork have been selected by the Royal Academy. The pencil drawing ‘Looking Back’ which took 700 hours and consists of over 6,000 pencil strokes was hung in the Summer Exhibition in 1981. Acclaimed as ‘an amazing technical feat’ by The Academy it is a favourite with fans.

Cyril’s art works were created from his vivid and active imagination. He produced fantasy worlds and visions, never mundane always original, inventive and visionary.

He spent his latter years based in Thanet where he has been for some time his technical ‘feet’ weren't as lively but his mind lost none of its clarity and vision. He was seldom seen without pencil and paper, even when confined to a hospital bed, always doodling and creating sketches of his own fantasy world.  Particularly inspired by the ‘Turner’ skies here he started to incorporate them into some of his work. He was delighted to see the Turner Gallery taking shape and looked with interest to the artistic endeavours of the local area to assist the regeneration of this beautiful part of the country.