John Marshall - the inspiration behind his new solo show 'The Cows'.
In anticipation of the new solo show, we caught up with John Marshall in his rural Sussex studio to find out about the inspiration behind this fabulous new collection of paintings...
What makes this collection/show distinct?
Over the years I’ve become accustomed to the short cold winter days in studio with the doors closed and the wood burner blazing away. I know from experience that the isolation can be achallenge - it’s certainly a motivational challenge arriving in the mornings with my breath showing and achingly cold hands, but it offers a chance to focus, without distraction, on my work.
Last Autumn I made a conscious decision to embrace colour, to fill the winter studio with vibrant colours that were absent in the countryside around me. And so, slowly at first, I introduced ‘the light’.
Technically this was tricky - a portrait (of a cow, or otherwise) will always have a compositional impact if the background is tonally darker than the subject. This is a traditional convention, one which I have come to rely on for many years. Introducing the range of ‘Miami Space Fruit’ * colours meant that the background would be visually ‘fighting’ with the subject, and so my technique and colours used in the portraits had to be adjusted. At times this was both both frustrating and exhilarating, forcing me to abandon and reinvent my painting methods and habits. I have to admit I enjoyed the process and the results are all here on show at Brighton’s very own Two Kats and a Cow.
* my phrase, and the original title for this exhibition.
You have an amazing studio, what's the story behind it, how have you modified it since moving in?
My Studio, I love my studio. For those that don’t know: it’s a converted Dairy on a working farm in the beautiful Cuckmere Valley in Sussex. I used to live in a tiny cottage just down the road from the farm and spent many many happy evenings in the local pub The Plough and Harrow. Here I became friends with, amongst others, Duncan Ellis - the farmer and owner of Church Farm, and over a pint one evening he offered me the studio. One problem: the cows were still using it. Duncan explained that he was to soon stop milk production and the building was mine if I could use it. We met the next day… and though the windows were boarded up, there was no door and decades of cows had left a hefty pong I thought it was perfect!
So, yes there’s been a few alterations! The cows moved out. I’ve windows and doors now - and lights. The ceiling was insulated, and everything painted white and, most importantly, a wood burning stove was installed. Ten years on and there is still an occasional whiff of cow, but as I say, I love the place and am in here virtually all the time! I’m in here now writing this.
How did you come up with the names for this exhibition?
Ah names. The process of conjuring up names for the paintings always absorbs and fascinates me. It’s a strange thing: a name really does alter how a portrait is viewed. It offers an alternate dimension to the painting, it reaches parts of the imagination beyond the paint itself.
For years wanted to deny this, in my very first shows I often only gave the paintings a number. I quickly realised that it’s so much more fun to play with names. I’ve accumulated a mini library of ‘Baby Name’ books and on completion of a painting will rifle through one until I find a name that ‘fits’.
I like to theme the names for an exhibition, I’ve had a ‘cake’ show using names of cakes, a ‘wallpaper’ show using names of wallpaper samples and even a ‘booze’ show using…well you get the idea. So for this one the theme is ‘extraordinary folk’. And crikey this really was fun*. Who knew that Scaffold, Trigger, Satchel, Pocket, Ricochet, Natty and Nugget were real people? I know, amazing huh! So, here they are these extraordinary forgotten heroes of history immortalised in cow form and on canvas.
* A special thank you to James Cochrane’s amazing research and his excellent book ‘Stipple, Wink and Gusset”
What has been your inspiration behind the work?
Ah Andy, darling Andrew Warhol. Well of course there are others but none so inspirational as Warhol himself. An unwavering lifelong dedication to art, even being shot didn’t stop him. I’m a big fan. For this exhibition I turned to his later commercial portraiture work where the colours strictly reference the urban world of the 1980s. Long ago I studied colour theory and beyond the visual vocabulary of colour as a subject is how palettes shift with time and place, they all seem to have an ‘era’. I’ve used the colours of this 1980’s New York era, and to be honest I’m not sure how obvious or even relevant this is, but the collection somehow has been unified by this palette. Well in my eyes anyway! Andy would get it.
Why have you chosen the Two Kats and a Cow Gallery for this exhibition?
Where else? There really could only be one venue for this exhibition. It’s my old stomping ground, I worked in my tiny studio and later in the gallery space for over twenty years. It really does have a special place in my heart.
I do of course have a close tie with everyone in the gallery, but this really is an exceptional contemporary art space with maturity and bravery. Galleries have a ‘house style’ - usually honed by the taste of the owners and inevitably by the tastes of their customers. This is Ok, but this collection is definitely a departure for me… I know, I know still cows, but a departure all the same. The palette, the technique, the ‘spirit’ of the work. I really see this as an important collection and I know I can trust the Two Kats and a Cow Gallery, above all others, to not only share, but to truly embrace the spirit, the new ethos, that these works represent to me.
John Marshall. March 2019