Texts


Grace a Present Memory - Colin Glen 2008


"All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception."
Simone Weil (1909-1943)

Reflecting on those times in the summer when I used to drive out to Olly's studio to photograph his work, I remember the burgeoning sense of light, space and peace that developed as the journey progressed. On emerging from the enfolding valleys of Stroud, the land gradually flattens out towards the Severn river; the sky expands and in the distance, nearing the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, the land glows an ethereal cerulean blue. This journey to Frampton-on-Severn always felt like the seemingly endless road of the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the west coast of Scotland that leads out to the "point," the extremity of the mainland before the archipelago of the Western Isles begins. The further you go on a journey such as this, the more you have the sense of moving from a world of certainties, of fixed material, towards a realm where the line between the real and the unreal becomes as indeterminate as in a waking dream. The experience of this place allows the mind to loosen the bonds of a purely physical realm and move towards a state of "Grace," an awareness of the present state of being.

Once at the studio, setting up my equipment, I was struck by the presence of the paintings in my peripheral vision, variously propped up or hanging on the walls. Like the presence that emanates from living things, the paintings affect the senses even before you are consciously looking at them; they extend beyond their literal boundaries and condition the space that they inhabit. They project, and glow, resonating waves and  pulses of light, that hone an acute awareness of how physical and yet indefinable a feeling can be. Through a fluid sculpting of oil paint, working into and over layers of transparent and opaque pigments, the paintings present a universe of mutability within the eternal constant of the circle in a square. This ultimately stable form, with its Platonic and Buddhist antecedents provides, in Olly's hands, balanced yet dynamic sensations. The transition between square and circle is the interface where the painting comes to form, where it becomes an event. However, the crucial function highlighted by this translation between void and form is not solely to produce the painting as an object, as a distinct central core echoing to and from the vortex—but like sound, it performs a conditioning role on the experience of the surrounding environment.

Olly Marsden has always been inspired by music for his work, comparing his intense bouts of painting to the creation and performance of music. The love of music focused his attention on a deeper study of the qualities of sound. He discovered Chaldini's sound figures and the Cymatics of Hans Jenny, which opened into the study of sacred geometry, the wonder and history of the Golden Section, the music of the spheres, and Kepler's Harmonices Mundi. He began to understand the Node paintings he was doing at this time, which had initially developed from the study of water, in terms of sine waves and sound—pure tones, like those emitted from the singing bowls of Buddhist ceremonies. This new awareness placed a greater emphasis upon the element of time and introduced the significant concept of the centre of the painting as the site of temporal origin. Under the guidance of Stephen Ives at SVA Re.sound event in 2005 he began experimenting with sound. Starting with pure sine waves to generate harmonic sine waves, he combined the time delays and echoes of dub, sub-bass, Buddhist chants, and binaural beats to produce "Track 4" and "Mantra." Consequently, over the following two years the Node paintings evolved into "Harmonics," becoming more akin to music than pure sound.

In conversation Olly has said that although an enquiry into the nature and perception of reality underpins his practice, when it comes to physically making the work his commitment is to create beautiful paintings and nothing more. In essence this is an act of devotion, the sublimation of conscious intent and the sacrifice of endless hours of attentive energy in order to listen to the medium and articulate its message. The approach of focused enquiry into the physics of materials can produce results which transcend materiality itself, providing that there exists a vital element, that of Grace.

The multitude of meanings which surround the ancient biblical notion of Grace—Charis—commonly promote the external appearance of "loveliness" and refer to the presence of the Holy Spirit, but also refer to an awareness of a truly indefinable state beyond this realm. Grace can, significantly be the exchange of kindness given and received. For Simone Weil, the twentieth century religious thinker, Grace was set in opposition to gravity, the latter being the draw of the physical world and the self, while the former was a return to a spiritual realm. For her, Grace was achieved through action, through "labour," embracing the emptiness of "decreation," the de-struction of the self. To engage in this action the subject must also exist only in the present and in doing so renounce the past and the future; memory and hope, in favour of "faithfulness to the passing moment." 

It's now December, it's dark at three in the afternoon, it's wet and it's cold. Thinking back to the paintings in Olly's studio, I imagine them all singing to each other at night, and I am reminded again of that sensation I felt of catching the paintings in my peripheral vision while packing up my camera. I am reminded of that sense of feeling present. Memory is not simply how we store past events, but how we approach the world. It coalesces to inform every action beyond conscious thought. It defines the habits which accumulate like the pulsing bands sent out from the centre of each painting. Henri Bergson stated "the body's past acts in the present, it is part of my present exactly like my habit of walking or writing; it is lived and acted, rather than represented." A final glance back at Olly's work confirms the Grace of the present.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, Routledge, 1952
Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, New York, Doubleday, 1896
To hear "Track 4" and "Mantra," go to HYPERLINK "http://www.myspace.com/olivermarsden"www.myspace.com/olivermarsden