An unexpected hatter – Thomas James Parrish

David Finlay – artist, activist, lecturer, and puppeteer, recently added hat designer to his list of artistic endeavours. Having been homeless in Central London for twelve years, David was unfortunate enough to lose dexterity in his fingers – a significant blow for a painter. Nevertheless, he has continued to bring smiles to the faces of a disillusioned society by finding new ways of adding colour to the world. 

“I have made it a bit of a project to increase the colour and splendour of my wheelchair as a way of expressing my artistic side.” With the help of a local seamstress, David has created a collection of hats using locally-sourced discarded fabrics and shirts and adding to his “Mobile Art Installation” (his wheelchair buggy). 

“It’s been gobsmacking! People come up to me and tell me how great I look and how happy it makes them feel. People tell me it’s the first thing that’s made them smile in quite some time.”

While the responses to David’s flair have been overwhelmingly positive, they are not exclusively so. He has become the victim on multiple occasions of assault, abuse and theft. “Sometimes I can’t help but feel like a target, like I’m drawing too much unwanted attention to myself… but I don’t know how to be any other way, you see.”

Following a multi-toe amputation, David is reliant on his scooter for mobility. He lives alone in state housing and wanted to use this opportunity as a way of saying thank you to his family and carers. He also struggles with an ongoing battle against PTSD as a result of his time on the streets.

I first met David at the beginning of lockdown in the UK in London, by the skate park at Southbank. He expressed his disappointment that a place which offers him relief from the difficulties he faces was now closed and empty. “One day [the skaters] came up to me and offered for me to join them in the park. So, they took me and my scooter down some ramps – it was the most fun I’d had in years. I didn’t even think they noticed me, but they said they see me as their dad – watching over them. I suppose I’m not exactly inconspicuous.”

Without question, the 71-year-old’s relentless desire to express himself is a prime example of unapologetic authenticity. In a world obsessed with concerns about external judgement, David and his hats are a refreshing brush stroke of artistic creativity, providing an unlikely friend and much needed inspiration during a global pandemic.

I am from Sydney, Australia and now based in London full-time. Following six years of international experience, embarking on several personal photographic projects, I continue to be inspired by the events of today. I look for engaging stories, big and small, with an element of society that may otherwise go unseen or disregarded.

I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects and campaigns with refugees, religious groups and environmental programs across the globe, and this work is driven by my passion for exposing environmental and humanitarian issues that still exist in this day and age.

thomasjamesparrish.com / instagram.com/thomasjamesparrish