Article published in the Royal Gazette, October 6, 2004
The Show of the Year
The opening last Friday of the Bermuda Society of Arts show of new work by Jonah Jones and Chris Marson can only be described as a mob scene. Some 150 people streamed into the gallery as the doors opened and a line of hopeful buyers formed within minutes and lasted for almost an hour before the rush eased. Red stickers appeared everywhere adding still more colour to an already colourful show.
The rush to buy was justified. This is without a doubt the art show of the year. If there was a downside at all I would say that it was a pity that the artists had agreed between themselves that Chris Marson would only show watercolours. It isn’t that his watercolours aren’t superb. They are. It is just that recently he has been expanding his talent into other media and doing equally well. I would have liked to have seen some.
That tiny quibble aside, the show is huge. There are over 100 paintings in the gallery and the first impression is breath taking. Colour dominates. The two artists are friends and often paint together, but it is still remarkable that their paintings hang together so well as their styles are widely divergent. Jonah Jones could be described as an artist who started out with boundless enthusiasm and energy and learned to control his medium without losing any of his original delight in colour, light, movement and sheer excitement.
Chris Marson’s artistic journey has been in exactly the opposite direction. Always meticulous, he has refined and reduced his painting style to the point at which the tiniest touch of his brush is made to express much the same delight in what he sees as does Jonah’s exuberance. The amazing thing about this show is how well his spare, refined watercolours hang interspersed amongst the almost brash oils of Jonah Jones.
‘Winter Waves’ is a rare departure from his usual serenity. In it enormous energy is expressed with the artist©ˆs usual understatement, here in a minimal, almost cubist treatment which surfaces again in ‘Skyline’, a quarry scene. ‘Oxford in Somerset’ is another departure from his more usual restful, misty style. It is radiantly sunny, almost vivid, but nevertheless as spare and reserved in treatment as ever. ‘Rain off the Point’ particularly appealed to me for its remarkably reductionist success in the portrayal of power in weather.
Amongst Mr. Marson’s 43 paintings these are mentioned because they seem to me to be pushing a little on his usual conservative boundaries. For those who admire his work there is a feast in this show. If I had to award a “best in show” ribbon I think it would have to go to ‘Kings Point Island’, a supreme example of his painting style that immediately catches they eye on entering the gallery, despite being in a distant corner.
His ‘Ely’s Harbour’ enjoys a rare touch of bright colour in orange buoys. It was possibly painted in tandem with Jonah Jones who has a set of four near abstracts with orange buoys in reflective water as the dominating subject.There are a number of other scenes in the repertoire of both artists that may have been painted in tandem. Cleverly hung together are ‘Clouds, Mangrove Bay’, a charming oil hung between two Marson’s, ‘Wet Morning’ and ‘Mangrove Bay’. It might have been fun to have more hanging together in the show, but it’s fun to pick them out.
The dominating feature of the show is Jonah Jones’ ‘Newport’ series. There are 12 in all, including two studies. They are festive, lively, full of colour, full of people, full of ocean race preparation, but they look painted in a hurry. The boats don’t always sit in the water as they should, the people aren’t always anatomically acceptable. These are small quibbles, but they are things that make many viewers uneasy even if they don’t quite know why.
It isn’t that the artist always has trouble getting his boats correctly in the water; Jonah Jones is one of the best. In ‘Evening Ferry’, a scene of one of our sturdy little harbour ferries passing Hodsdon’s Dock, the ferry surges through the water, accelerating after determining there was no customer waiting on the dock – just as if it were real. With a cool post-sunset evening light (Mr. Jones’ light almost always comes from the right) this less colourful work is one of the artist’s best. In his wonderfully gold lit series ‘Stretching out the Weekend’ and ‘Sunlit Boat’ all the boats solidly displace the water in which they live. The light in these series absolutely glows.
The show is relieved from being endlessly Bermudian by two series done abroad, one in Wyoming, one in France. My impression was that Mr. Jones was much happier in the Rockies than he was in France. His Wyoming series catches the spirit of the country and its own unique light wonderfully well whereas France seems to have done the almost impossible and subdued the ebullient Jonah spirit. For me the high points of the Jones collection were two small studies of weather and named accordingly. Summer clouds, water, light and rain are the subject of both; one is punctuated with tiny sailboats in the distance.
Sadly they were not bought as a pair. Another less colourful series were the six ‘Kings Point Moods’, the same view in six different weathers and lights. I particularly liked (and bought) #2, almost without colour, spare and evocative, and the nearest Jones came to Marson in style.
Certainly the show of the year, this brilliant, colourful display of two of Bermuda’s major talents must not be missed. Despite the heavy buying at the opening there are still plenty of excellent works available. Fortunately there are still two weeks in which to see it.
The following review is taken from the
Royal Gazette Lifestyle Section Tuesday, June 29 1999
Marson’s watercolours are simply dazzling!
By Gareth Finighan
Christopher Marson, Artists Up Front Street –
Masterworks Gallery, Front Street, Hamilton.
Watercolour can be a pretty cruel medium. Unlike oils, every stroke that’s put down has to be the right stroke, every tone, every hue in harmony.
The transparency of the medium leaves few hiding places for the inept painter to shield behind.
As a pretty inept painter myself it’s never been my favourite medium. Furthermore I often find that the results can be a bit insipid, a bit,, well, wishy-washy, even in -the hands of somebody who knows what they’re up to. It seems not many artists are brave enough to really grab their colours by the throat.
So it’s indeed a rare delight to wallow in the work of somebody who not only has complete control over their chosen medium but also uses that skill to the most dazzling and brilliant effect.
This exhibition features 19 of Marson’s watercolours, all landscapes depicting Bermudian scenes.
Marson has an easy loose informal, technique. There is very little underdrawing to help guide Marson’s brush, instead he seems to go straight for the kill, laying down rich washes of shimmering golds, cool purples and rich, luscious greens a sign of an artist brimming with confidence in his own ability – and quite rightly too.
Not that all of his paintings worked for me. There are one two beach scenes where he does fall into that trap of failing to bold enough and the results look a little washed out, with little happening, but these are exceptions rather than the rule.
Where Marson does seem to excel is in his depiction of buildings and the differing effects that changing light plays on their surface.
“Gibbs Hill’ is an unusual take on a subject, so familiar to many painters. Marson chooses to ignore the towering stack and instead just focuses on the base of the lighthouse, – which is splashed with the shadows of surrounding structures. It was a pretty hot morning on Front Street when I reviewed this exhibition but just looking at Marson’s soothing shadows had a cooling effect.
The work that perhaps best typifies Marson’s style is ‘Evening Light’, a group of rooftops shimmering, in the setting sun, glimpsed through a crop of evergreens. Like a lot of Marson’s work -the composition is reduced to a few blocked-in shapes. With, just a few strokes, Marson is able to create something so solid and real while his colours are pure and clear yet bold. Like anyone on top of his game Marson makes the whole process look so easy and so simple, which is part of his appeal.
Not surprisingly a large number of the works on display here have already been sold. One shouldn’t be surprised for two reasons: first and foremost because Marson is a wonderfully gifted painter who produces works of astonishing beauty. Furthermore, while his ability may be sky high, his feet are firmly on the ground when it comes to valuing his work.
Most of the paintings here will cost you around $800, which is an absolute bargain in my view. Although Marson is not a full time painter he really should consider upping his prices a bit at the very least. Then again, maybe that would only encourage the droves of talentless artists to do likewise and we wouldn’t want that would we?
Unfortunately this show doesn’t have much longer to run but, if you, have a chance, I recommend you pay it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.
The Royal Gazette Living Tuesday, October 18, 1994
Top artist finally gets a show he can call his own
by Patricia Calnan
Although he is one of Bermuda’s finest and most painterly of painters, Chris Marson has never had his own show.
Now the Bermuda Society of Arts has put that situation to rights by choosing him as the featured artist to open its new Harbor Gallery. Fifteen of his distinctive watercolors have gone on view in the new, three room Pitts Bay Road gallery, just acquired by the society as an additional outlet for their members work which opened this weekend.
Mr. Marson is refreshingly down to earth about the business of painting, and modest to the point where he say’s he has never really considered holding a one-man show. He sets the tone for his first-ever interview by quoting Canadian painter, Ken Lougheed, “if I could talk about it, I wouldn’t have done all these damn paintings!”
In spite of his reticence, Mr. Marson’s track record is impressive. Besides showing regularly with the Society of Arts and Dockyard exhibitions, his work is also in demand in several galleries in New England. In 1991 he was one of the 13 artists selected to take part in the summer show off the Royal Society of British Artists at the Mall Galleries in London. His paintings have been shown in Bermuda’s National Gallery and he is one of the few living artists featured in Masterworks recently published book on their Bernudiana collection. The Department of Tourism has twice purchased work for auctions at charity benefits in the US and, this year, the Premier chose one of his watercolors for his Christmas card. Finally, a Chris Marson watercolor was chosen as one of the first to paintings be purchased by the Society of Arts for its projected Contemporary Collection. It is not hard to see why his work is so instantly recognized as being quintessentially Bermudian and could never be mistaken for the work of any other artists. With a few, seemingly simple strokes, brushed in cool low-key colors, he captures that sense of place which is the hallmark of the true landscape artist. This is a quality that was immediately recognized by Georgiana Druchyk, director of America’s oldest art society, the Copley Society of Boston, when she juried a Bermuda Society of Art show earlier this year. “He has achieved a mastery over his brush that allows him to express himself with utter simplicity — his handwriting is very distinctive” she noted at the time. This assessment is one that might possibly amuse Mr. Marson. Having obtained a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Manitoba, he stresses that he specialized in graphic design.
“In fact, I was basically told that I didn’t know how to paint.” It was not until about 11 years ago that he took up his paintbrushes again and, even then, it was to work in oil and acrylics.
“For a couple of years, I was doing a whole bunch of really bad paintings. When I switched to watercolors, it took a long time to get used to working in that medium, since then, I’ve never looked back.”
In spite of that setback, Mr. Marson has been painting for most of his life, recalling that when he was about eight years old, he saw artist Mary Powell’s studio opposite Paget Marsh and announced in the back of the car “that’s what I want to be.”
Today, he is a prolific painter who tends to paint the same scenes over and over again. The reason behind this, however, is perhaps more prosaic than those governing Monet’s haystacks and water lilies.
“Spanish Point is very close to town so I can go there in my lunch hour and paint a picture,” he explains.
In spite of some fellow artists who tell him, “but there’s nothing to paint out there!” Mr. Marson says the only problem for him lies in the naming of his paintings. “It get difficult when all you can say, basically, is that we’ve now reached “Spanish Point number 68″ ! But the truth is, the more you paint a place the more you see. You really get the feel and atmosphere, you see the differences in the quality of the light, and every day, you do see something that is quite new.”
Warming to this theme, he goes on to explain how he approaches each painting. “I may go out there and look at the sky, or the water, or it may be a very gray, dull day and then perhaps it will be the boats to catch my attention. My major decision is always about where the horizon is going to be, and I decide what really interests me and then it’s all very fast. The basics are down on paper in under an hour — and the longest part of that is waiting for my washes to dry. I may work on it some more, afterwards, but if I hadn’t got the core by then, I never will have.”
Admitting that he carries a small painting kit with him wherever he goes (“even when I go swimming”), Mr. Marson feels that it is essential to paint just about every day.
“If I paint solidly each day over a period of time, there is an increased fluency, I suppose this is like doing scales on the piano every day.”
This, he says, sometimes requires a discipline that forces the artist to pick up his paintbrush when he least feels like it.
“I’ve done some of my best paintings when I started out in a bad, or none painting mood. Basically, I can’t imagine life now, without painting. If I don’t paint for a few days, I get twitchy and in the end, my wife will say, “for goodness sake, go out and get on with some painting ! ” part of the fascination is that, however much you paint, you never know how it’s going to turn out.”
At the moment, Chris Marson feels he is going through a “new” stage.
“There’s a lot more color, stronger colors, in my work at the moment. I think I need to work on edges for a while and try to get the values right. I’m working at bigger, stronger shapes and more structure in them. When Peter Peterson (past president of the Royal Society of British Artists) was out here, he told me my paintings needed to be more constructed and I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what he meant, I do now! But with painting, you have to be ready for certain information, otherwise it won’t do you any good. One of the great things about painting is that it’s an open-ended thing. You never really reach the point where you can’t improve. It’s a growing thing, and you learn only as you go along.”
Asked to sum up his style, he replies that he feels it is a curious combination of the big shapes of the “California” style, but without the bright bold colors.
“My coloration is very English, so it’s a cross-fertilization of big American, an early English watercolors!”
Noting that he was made to do “a lot” of drawing at University, Mr. Marson emphasizes that, in his opinion, drawing is the backbone of art.
“That is where the structure is. I draw with a brush — but that comes from the fact that I can draw. An awful lot of artists cannot draw.”
It is perhaps this highly developed gift which, more than anything else, lends the understated fluidity and inborn sense of rhythm that characterizes the Marson painting.
He enlarges on the importance of drawing by adding, “you have to be prepared, in the first few years of painting, for a lot of “misses.”. For every 10 or 20 that “miss”, you may get one that sings. Gradually, after years of practice, the hits increase over the misses., said eventually even your bad ones are competent. The painting has to communicate. The technically perfect painting often doesn’t work. If the artist and the painting are talking to each other that quality will come through. If not, you may as well forget it, as a work of art”
Full of quiet humor, Chris Marson reveals some of the pitfalls awaiting the artist who insists on doing all of this landscape paintings on location.
“People often come up behind me and ask, “are you a real artists?” Then the next question is, can they sit and watch. Painting is so draining, and you are so totally concentrated that, most of the time you are not even aware of people watching you. I don’t really mind. In fact, there’s one guy who asked who I thought was a very good question. This was, “how’d you get the colors not to run together?” After we cleared that away and he asked me a whole lot more, I ended up giving in the painting lesson! When I told them it took at least a couple hundred paintings before you start to paint properly, he said, “well, I guess it’s like anything else. It’s no use unless you practice!”
Chris Marson’s success finds him anywhere but resting on his artistic laurels.
“If anything, it gets harder, because the more you know, the more critical you get, and the less satisfied — even with the stuff you’ve only done a year or two ago. But it’s difficult, anyway, to be objective about your own work. People sometimes come up and point at some thing in my painting and say “I really like that bit” and it’s something I’ve never even noticed!”
Even when he does what he feels to be a good painting, is reaction, he says, is often one of disbelief.
“Now how did I do that? When I finish a really good one I think “is that it? Can I ever do it again?” I can often feel that the picture is working as a painting, because it somehow feels big on the page — it has a larger presence. The ones that don’t work are dropping away on the page”
He pays tribute to art teacher Mrs. Jean Rodrigues, explaining that had Saltus Grammar School did not, at the time, offer art lessons in the senior school, he decided to do “O” and “A” levels on his own.
“So I studied with her — she was the one who got me on my way. I owe her a lot.”
Chris Marson is also full of praise for the Bermuda Society of Arts.
“They have been very helpful to me and have regularly hung my work. When I first took half a dozen pictures in, I was so excited when they accepted them. Then I went back to have a look at them a couple of days later, and asked them why they had taken one down. I couldn’t believe it when they told me they’d sold it.”