Poet and translator Lucien Stryk suggested that the best poet will find nature anywhere. The same might apply to a painter, but this can be a tall order on some streets. Sometimes there’s little besides brick and concrete, a weed here, a weed there. So if an artist has come to find inspiration in nature, how does she then learn to read an entirely new landscape?
In “Blurred Vision” at Nucleus Art Centre, Marissa Mardon may be addressing this question, drawing on her inspiration from the Medway area. Using three separate palettes—realist, black and white, and a spectrum of rich blue hues, viewers take in Victoria park’s bandstand, a Rochester sunset, the Rochester castle and a variety of urban scenes. Some of these images might occur anywhere, but many on exhibit at NAC remain particular to Medway.
Originally from the highlands of Scotland, Mardon does actually seem to find inspiration through nature here, sometimes even in manmade structures. She views these formations like the beams in “Look Up”, “Feathered” and “Above Blue Boar Creek” almost with the lackadaisical lens of a child staring up at an array of branches from the ground. There is wonder here, especially in “Riveted”, perhaps one of the most skillfully rendered pieces. Here Mardon leans toward abstraction yet still captures the boxy reality of a port town.
“Wheel”, also painted in the gorgeous blues of most of the steel structures in the show, is similarly well-executed, offering complexity in the shapes cut by the steel beams, perhaps inviting viewers to consider the possibility of sky as broad canvas. In “Feathered”, there seems to be something almost cellular in the steel formation of the wheel.
“Under the Bridge” depicts another ethereal blue scene with streetlights blurred in the distance not so unlike Whistler’s fuzzy lights in his Nocturnes. In making sense of our environments, we go by what we know, sometimes overlapping, placing one familiar element next to the new. A steel structure is to tree as wheel is to …? And where does grass fit in with the castle? One can sort of feel Mardon working it out.
Mardon’s abstraction in pieces like “Riveted” versus the pastoral paintings like “Rochester Sundown” and “Riverside Sunset” offer an interesting contrast. A few primarily red paintings (“Pants on Fire”, “Cocktail Bar” & “Fire Orbs”) may represent the more outrageous elements of Medway life.
The Rochester realist scenes portray what might arguably be some of the most appealing sights in Medway, and Mardon takes little to no artistic liberty here, as the river, sky and castle require no embellishment. Often, as Medway residents go about our days, these glimpses are private, incidental, but here Mardon connects all of us who’ve been taken by the sights, confirming their stunning qualities.
In “Bandstand”, the gazebo-like structure in Chatham’s Victoria Park is painted in mostly grey with perhaps just the slightest hint of blue, the black and white replacing what would be otherwise be verdant, achieving a dreamlike vision. The grey is soft, misty, and quite blurred on the right half of the painting.
The slender, elegant pillars of the bandstand might be the striking legs of a swift-moving, gently-grazing savanna creature—a gazelle perhaps. Or, the bandstand might just float off like a jellyfish fashioned by the rain. The mist, the grey, the rain—all of it blur our vision, which Mardon seems to suggest, might offer new possibilities rather than obscure them.
There’s not so much fog or blur in the similarly black and white “Castle Through the Grass”, but rather bright spots of light and wispy clouds in the sky. Grasses edge the front of the scene, the tops of the cathedral and castle behind. We can hear the wind here, maybe a gull, perhaps the soft rustling of the grasses. The inclination is to head down to the buildings, to take part in whatever one might find there.
This is the part of the story where the hero finds him or herself on the edge of the next chapter, the next set of challenges. Anticipation, excitement almost, brims in the very tips of other buildings sticking out of the horizon like new shoots in spring.
Drawing the beauty out
“Laying on the Lines” and “New Road Mist” capture l’heure bleue, that surreal, deep blue right before dark. This is night at its finest, the incipient night, and Mardon knows it. The bare tree branches and what could be harsh streetlights appear chilling in “New Road”, but there’s a beauty to the starkness, especially revealed here as is.
Mardon doesn’t seem to want to alter her landscape so much as dig to find the essence of it and to then draw that beauty out. In some streets, more digging may be required than on others. Mardon’s sight is keen, though, and she doesn’t seem to edit her field of vision.
Mardon has clearly studied her craft and her subjects. In works like “Wharf View”, featuring exquisitely rendered individual blades of grass, viewers discover that each blade warrants close observation, close consideration, and then some. Each tells a story in expressive angles, each bathed in its own tale of light and shadow.
Hints of Mardon’s personal story make an appearance as well, in “Shadow at Shorne”, where a silhouette stands in the center of a wood. The shadow suggests that perhaps a part of the artist always inhabits a place in the woods, a black and white space with winter trees and the absence of anything manmade.
In “See the Light”, a woman stands with arms outstretched in a triumphant fashion, over deep green hills that could be the Darland Banks, or a number of other valleys, with a clear shot of the sun as it works its way back down between the folds of the valley.
The woman, who, once again, may represent an aspect or aspects of the artist, seems to be connected to the scene, to the light and to the land. The position of the arms and body suggest a climb, an effort or struggle, now achieved, or the woman now perhaps after a time in the dark, now greeting the light.
Photograph (c) Marissa Mardon