Interview: Jonathan Marshall | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Artist in Studio. Photo: Lee Russell

A new fine art exhibition from Darlington based artist,  Jonathan Marshall takes place at Newcastle Arts Centre from 9th August – 21st September. Marshall studied Fine Art at Sunderland University in the early 1990’s, before going on to gain an MA from the prestigious Chelsea College of Art and Design in London.  His exhibition, Dymaxion 4 features a series of monumental figurative drawings made in charcoal and inspired by the American artist Edward Kienholz. Bound by personal references, as well as a host of other literary inspirations his pieces are dramatic and complex and layered with symbolical meaning. Here, Jonathan shares with us the inspiration behind his work.

My entire career has been dominated by making figurative art.  In the early days I was hugely influenced by German Expressionism and artists such as Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.  I love the power and raw honesty of their art and continue to be fascinated by their use of line, form, shape, colour and how they used these elements to stir the emotions directly in the viewer.  The more contemporary artist Georg Baselitz and his Hero/New Type paintings of 1965/66 have also provided a massive inspiration for my work. These hulking-heroes are strong and powerful, but battle worn they are wounded and vulnerable; Baselitz’s Hero paintings present a bold statement about the male artist, one which is paradoxically brash, but sensitive and full of melancholy at the same time.  For me these paintings are moving and beautiful and ones to emulate.

Human beings are the strangest of animals, psychologically tense and full of drama.  I am really interested in the layers and facets of our personalities and I see my art, in some small way, as an attempt to fathom who we are and what it is that makes us human.  Consequently the figures in my work are subject to all manner of influences and they become the protagonists bound by a whole host of personal and literary inspirations.  The figure in my work can be subjected to ideas as they come to mind and these could be anything from a simple thought, to a memory or experience, current reading, or an observation.  I really enjoy working with symbolic references and have also used appropriation as a way to add further poignancy to the work.  ‘The Marriage or The Great Friends’ (2017), pictured below, is an example of this approach.  Inspired by Jan van Eyck’s ‘Arnolfini Marriage’ (National Gallery, London) and Georg Baselitz’s ‘The Great Friend’s’ (Museum Ludwig, Cologne), the work is about the partnership between my husband and me; it is a work about material belongings, emotional connections and experiences.

‘The Marriage or The Great Friends’, Charcoal and White Pastel on Paper. Photo: Lee Russell

My current project centres on work inspired by the American artist Edward Kienholz and specifically his installation ‘The Beanery’ (1965).  In total I have set myself the challenge to produce a series of drawings focusing on every character seen in Kienholz’s installation, 17 in all.  Kienholz made the work in response to the famous diner ‘Barney’s Beanery’ in Los Angeles; his installation is currently owned by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Entering Kienholz’s installation is an intimidating and claustrophobic experience.  The homophobic countenance in the bar has caused me to question those present, their motivations for being there, comfortable to socialise under the offensive sign ‘Faggots Stay Out’.  There are many stories laying claim as to how the controversial sign came about. The suggestion is that Barney, the owner of the Beanery who put up the sign, had sympathy for counterculture freedom and the regular gay clientele, but that the sign paradoxically still represented a measure of homophobia on his part.  Conversely, it has also been stated, that the sign was put up due to pressures placed on Barney by the police, who had an agenda of discrimination towards homosexuals in 1950’s America. Nevertheless this context has provided me with a stage for my drawings.

The Martians Have Landed, Charcoal and White Pastel on Paper. Photo: Lee Russell

‘The Martians Have Landed’, 2018/19, (pictured above) and ‘Chicken Fillets’, 2018, are the first works I have made in response to Kienholz’s installation.  My reaction has been to throw Kienholz’s figures into a completely new context, my task, to remove the clocks that cover their faces (seen in Kienholz’s original work) and to turn the characters on their heads.  My intention is to flaunt and celebrate the strange and peculiar, the flamboyant, the homosexuals and transgendered people and all those who exist on the margins of society.

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