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‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’ – that is what art does. Phyllis Novak

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Martin, Paul - VM - Paul Martin

Paul Martin: Two Pools

The Heart of Matter

by Paul Martin

The body of work on display in the exhibition entitled tWOpOoLs originates in memories of landscape: not specific places but the sensed, dreamed locations encased within the matter which constitutes these places. The language of the paintings, their material substance, the cursive drawing and the colour within the medium are all painterly signs of experiences and perceptions. They refer to the power of wind and rain, to movement, flux and motion, to the scratchy pungency of undergrowth or the wetness of water in rivers, lochs and seas.

The Jesuit philosopher and anthropologist Teilhard de Chardin in his philosophical work The Heart of Matter discusses the close relationship between the human spirit and matter. He insists with the writers of the New Testament and the Early Fathers of the church that the rich reality of the whole cosmos, including the world in which we live, is alive with the creative presence of God, from the greatest mountain to the smallest atom. To give diligent attention to matter in all its forms, he asserts, is not pantheistic but panentheistic. In other words, matter is sacred, imbued with the sustaining presence of its Creator. De Chardin therefore exhorts his readers to “plunge into Matter” and to seek out its “fiery heart”, thereby experiencing and understanding both it and its Creator in a true and enriching way.

Having read authors such as De Chardin, I have been looking for some time at the nature of the landscape, or more accurately, the nature of nature. I have produced paintings which are a response to its dazzling multitude of elements. These range from the smallest seed and grain of sand to rock and the mysterious substances which erode it leaving the marks of their invisible power upon its form. Although painting is a visual medium, the elements of which it is composed – marks, rhythm, colour, size, shape, the paint itself – all can reflect the very growth, mass, luminosity and energy of the matter which forms the landscape.

The painting illustrated here comes from my recent tWoPoOLS exhibition at The Doubtfire Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland. The subject is water in two small pools which reflect a blue sky. The painting is constructed of two rectangles of card divided and joined by a third long rectangular strip. The varnishes and mono-printed paint are themselves loaded with sand and sawdust to engage the viewer with the sheer material complexity of the subject. The painting thus suggests the life of pools: they reflect light, absorb colour, contain fish and plant life. They add quietness to solitude and yet can drown a victim. In sunlight pools are alive with flickering insects and reflections, whilst in darkness their gentle presence can become ominous. Pools decompose vegetation and support swimmers, reflect distant trees and sky, and are the home of a myriad of tiny or invisible creatures.

Remembered experiences, thoughts and atmospheres are suggested. The flickering, cursive drawing of Two Pools sometimes floats, sometimes sinks within the painted surface. The marks themselves suggest shapes of letters whilst never forming words. Something is mysterious.  Matter here is suggestive, elusive, never assertive, while a hidden and Divine energy is conveyed. 

These word-fragments may be perceived as signs of something we may easily miss or even ignore. In this painting there are many marks, signs, and visual suggestions which warn of delight or danger. Just as in the material world there are signs which trigger memory and knowledge. Some remind us of past experiences conveying energy or excitement, some less obvious and more mysterious. These are signs of the sacred: the heart within matter which reflects the creative energies of God.

John Scotus Erigena, the 9th-century theologian, adhered closely to the Celtic view of the natural world as a theophany. Every object is a flash of the supernatural. God not only created the world but is present in it now, everywhere present and filling all things.

A Celtic prayer reflects this reality:

There is no plant in the ground
But is full of virtue,
There is no form in the strand
But is full of His blessing.

There is no life in the sea,
There is no creature in the river,
There is naught in the firmament
But proclaims His goodness…

The paintings in this exhibition reflect the existence of such ideas and the realities they seek to express. Their language, form and scale are an attempt to engage with these metaphysical considerations whilst exciting the viewer to journey into the same landscape and, hopefully, to experience it in a new and personally enriching way.  

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Paul Martin: Two Pools, 2018, varnishes pigment acrylic sand sawdust on card, 67 x 58 cm.

Paul Martin was born in 1948 in Bournemouth, England, UK. He graduated from the Birmingham School of Art in Painting and Printmaking in 1969. In 1972 he graduated from the Royal Academy Schools, London (post graduate). Martin has had exhibitions in the UK, Australia, USA, Holland and France. Major public and private collections that acquired his work include the British Museum, Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Bank of Scotland, BBC. Since 1975 he has taught and lectured at Sheffield School of Art, Harrow College, Cheshunt School, Rugby School and Leith School of Art. Recent exhibitions are When Men and Mountains Meet, Dovecote Gallery, Edinburgh, 2013; Edgelands, Warburton Gallery, Edinburgh 2014; Concretions, Warburton Gallery, Edinburgh 2015; Discovering Ancient Springs, Maltings Gallery, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire 2017; The Heart of Matter, Doubtfire Gallery, Edinburgh 2018. http://www.paulmartinstudio.com/

ArtWay Visual Meditation July 22, 2018