Watercolourist Marson – a master of his medium
Christopher Marson is primarily known as a watercolourist, but, as his exhibition A Year of My Bermuda demonstrates, he is so much more than that.
Although watercolours dominate, the show includes works in oil paint, acrylics and gouaches, the latter being a kind of opaque watercolour.
There is a perception that watercolour painting is an easier medium to handle than acrylic or oil; perhaps less serious, less valuable. This is perhaps in part because when small children first begin to dabble in art, it is often with a tin of cheap watercolour paints that they express themselves.
Watercolour is seen as a medium for the amateur, the beginner. But this is certainly not the case.
It is difficult and unforgiving in that there is little latitude for mistakes or changes once the painting has begun. Also, because of its transparency, it is necessary to work from light to dark.
It’s not possible to place light over dark and retain its lightness. In this technique, the ultimate light is the white of the paper.
It takes thought, planning, speed and confidence to execute watercolour successfully. Once you’ve made your mark, there’s no going back. (Unlike oil paint, in which errors can be scraped off the canvas or painted over.)
Despite, or perhaps because of, these difficulties Marson’s approach to painting appears fresh and spontaneous.
He paints quickly and this in part conveys the appearance of freshness. Additionally, he has the uncanny knack of making the difficult look easy.
As the title A Year of My Bermuda suggests, the works here were produced over the course of this past year. Over that period, the artist decided to “push” watercolours and to restrict his subject matter to that of Bermuda — its unique architecture, nature and coastline.
One good example (of which there are many) is John Smith’s, Winter Wind, painted in a loose and free style with brushstrokes that suggest forms rather than articulate, precise details. You can almost hear the waves crashing on the shore, with foreground casuarina trees fighting to stay upright. About three-quarters of the 41 paintings in this show consist of watercolours, and in my view Marson is at his very best with this technique. In his artist’s statement, he says that watercolour is still his favourite medium, especially when out on location. He also indicates that when a watercolour is going well, he thinks of himself as just a helper.
In that regard, I think of Paul Klee, who saw the artist as a conduit in the transmission of art from concept to actuality.
In case one might think that a work painted quickly is automatically of lesser value than a more labour-intensive painting, consider the many years it has taken to develop the skill to create such a work as those by Marson.
I am reminded of a response made by the London-based American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who, when asked during a lawsuit between himself and the critic John Ruskin how long it had taken to create a certain work of art, replied that it had taken a lifetime.
Of additional appeal is the simple framing of the watercolours. All utilise the same white moulding and white mat. This allows the paintings to take centre stage without having to compete with overly ornate frames or, for that matter, with each other.
The impression that comes to mind when considering the exhibition’s overall presentation is that of brightness, cleanness, modernity.
Watercolour paintings can look stilted and insipid in the hands of an unskilled painter. Marson demonstrates that, in the hands of a master, watercolours can create images that are powerful, vivid, atmospheric and alive.
This is an exceptional exhibition, one I recommend seeing.
• A Year of My Bermuda, a solo exhibition by Christopher Marson, runs until October 26 at Gallery One Seventeen, 117 Front Street. Christopher Marson has committed to producing an 8in x 6in painting every day for a year that each can be sold for $86 as a fundraiser in support of the Dockyard Arts Centre (www.artbermuda.com)
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