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Painting; The Object - Damien Hirst 2007


A friend at art school who made sculptures and collages, once remarked that he felt like a painter, only he didn’t use oil paints and canvas. Olly Marsden is an artist who seems to make sculptures of paintings or sculptural paintings.

I always wanted to be a painter much more than a sculptor or an artist, but I was overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities of painting. I think it’s got something to do with the void of a blank canvas where anything and everything is possible beyond gravity, beyond life, in the realms of the imagination. Max Beckmann used to paint his canvases black to represent the void and everything he painted he saw as an object that he placed between himself and that void. Olly Marsden takes on gravity and movement and creates object / paintings that don’t quite sit happily as paintings or sculpture they are somehow both.

I believe that after Pollock created a distance between the brush and the canvas by flinging the paint, there was nowhere to go with painting…but people still go to St. Ives, still make action paintings. The urge to be a painter is still there even if the process of painting is meaningless, old fashioned. Today there are better ways for artists to communicate to an audience raised on television, advertising and information on a global level but painting is still important.

Olly Marsden picks up the challenge and makes a kind of science of painting and creates pictures that have nothing to do with Richter or Poons or Bridget Riley or Albers or even Op. They’re about the urge or the need to be a painter above and beyond the object of a painting. They are like sculptures of paintings.

They seem to suggest a sculptural idea of a painter. A scientific approach to painting. Art doesn’t purport to have all the answers neither do artists but the celebration of movement and the gravity defying monochromes seem to stop time and balance seductively for our pleasure.

I first studied art in Leeds from an emotional painterly perspective – ‘paint how you feel’ – painting as truth. But lies are a part of life, and painting like life has to take this on board if it’s worth doing. If you’re happy, you paint a happy yellow and red painting; if you’re depressed you paint a sombre brown and purple painting; or if you’re smart you give up painting and share your good feelings with your friends, or when you’re down, cheer up and don’t drag people down to your level, don’t take anti-depressants – the difference between art and life. Olly manages to bring his paintings up to date with a mixture of gravitas and seduction created by a planetary circular motion it’s the way the planet spins in space the way the atoms move inside our bodies so as we look at them we can somehow feel them as well.

I believe painting and all art should be ultimately uplifting for a viewer. I love colour. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz. I hate taste – it’s acquired. I like the way Olly’s paintings look like they could have been made by a big machine – the machine being the artist in the future maybe.

I love the fact that in Olly’s paintings the angst is removed. The Van Gogh Horror of life is gone and replaced with a sense of limitless; fixed, motion. Somehow in every painting there is a subliminal sense of unease; yet the colours and surfaces project so much joy it’s hard to feel it, but it’s there. The horror underlying everything. The horror that can overwhelm everything at any moment.

So is he a sculptor who wants to be a painter, or a cynical artist who thinks painting is now reduced to nothing more than a logo or angst scientist trying to make meaningful objects of contemplation. Art is about life – there isn’t anything else. As an artist you ultimately somehow make art for people who haven’t even been born yet, Olly Marsden’s paintings are what they are, perfect paintings, which feel absolutely right, right now in this ever changing world.

Damien Hirst.