Holding the Liquid Moment - Colin Glen 2007

Oliver Marsden has been ‘freeing up’ – learning from paint – enjoying its liquid possiblities. His latest body of work shows evidence of a further development in his use of painting as a ‘way of focusing thought’. He is demanding more of the medium, himself and the audience. The immaculate perfection of surface evident in his previous paintings, the Nodes, the floating Halos and the pulsating points of the ‘Lique’ series has been challenged and expanded by the artist’s deepening research into the physical materiality of paint and its visual qualities. This has enabled him to further articulate and yet blur the boundaries of our experience, not only our understanding and perception of sound and vision (the waveforms of light and vibration) but also between thought and action. This has engaged him in discovering that to paint is to make anew, akin to Michael Fried’s use of Jonathan Edwards’ assertion; ‘…the world exists anew every moment; … the existence of things every moment ceases and is every moment renewed’.

To experience a work such as Rose Harmonic IV (2007) is to move towards a situation where the visual balance and tension of the work stimulates what Marsden calls a ‘state of resonance’, a ‘humming’ sensation. Each stage of movement to and from the dense centre of the piece is made infinitely subtle. This is achieved through the process of layering and revealing each application of paint in the material realisation of emitted sound waves, producing what the artist has termed a ‘liquid speaker’. Yet the title of the work, in declaring an inventory of each colour, both annotates its literal constituents and suggests, in the manner of a Joycean list, the poetic qualities inherent in even such quotidian details: Titanium White, Carmine, Magenta,  Guttegom Lak Extra, Brilliant Rose, Sheveningen Violet, Alizarin Crimson, Madder (Crimson) Lake Deep Extra. The artist takes his informed research in the science of complex systems and applies it to his practice of combining and mixing colour.

Marsden’s work has been developed as physical engagement – a bodily enacting of the ideas honed and refined since his years following his study at Edinburgh College of Art under the guidance of Glen Owin where he first engaged with the study of physical properties, the liquid complexities of paint. He has notched up a sparkling array of interests; quantum physics and eastern mysticism, crystallography, Beuysian philosophy, Jungian psychology, computer-generated imaging among them. However, it was in an Archimedes-like eureka moment in 2003 that he gained an awareness that through painting he could let the material speak for itself rather be illustrative of pre-conceived experiments: While watching water drip into a bucket in ‘11A’, his studio in the centre of Gloucester, he was fascinated by the waves that were emitted and echoed back into the centre. These waves were so simple and yet revealed such complexity that he decided to make work which both represented the form of the wave pattern and connected with the same physical rhythms for its production. Node 1 (2003) was the result. In order to continue his study of water, Marsden moved to Frampton-on-Severn, a remote hamlet which boasts both a river and a canal. Here, in the natural yet changeable light, the Node series developed as a meditation upon the primal elements of colour-space and simple geometrical balance. He began to see the paintings as transmitters and reflectors of light.

It is a sign of the maturing of his work that the artist should move on from the earlier influences and extend into territory which is of his own finding. His creation of new models of the visible were apparent in a work such as Chimaera 1 (2002) which moved beyond the computer model of organic structures, from which it was derived, through its transformation into paint. He took as a premise ‘how you understand reality affects how you act’ and in his recent water and sound-based work, has allowed the painting to be its own realisation. In doing so he has blended his own observations with his research into the Cymatics of Hans Jenny or the quantum physics of David Bohm, to form the notion of ‘liquid reality’. He makes new experiences, beyond the capacity of the machine. These are experiences without precedent, they are like new places to visit, and to that extent can be both unsettling as well as mesmerising.

He has re-discovered the vital quality of painting – its capacity, both in its production and its reception, to be an experience of the present and an experience of ‘presentness’. This enigmatic term was coined by Michael Fried in 1967 while defining Minimalism. It is appropriate that Fried went on to elaborate; ‘presentness is grace’ he said, for Marsden refers to his paintings as ‘illuminations’, as little glimpses into the workings of the universe. And it is this unblinking ability to unify the literal with the intangible in the form of a ‘Delay’ in paint, the holding of the liquid moment that defines Marsden’s current practice.

Colin Glen.