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“It’s kind of like being inside your own mind.” Guy laughs, on being surrounded by his paintings that hang on the walls of the Bondi Pavilion Gallery for his first solo show.
Today marks the first of my series of monthly artist-profiles. The people I will interview are Sydney-based artists spanning the disciplines of the visual, music and performing arts. The goal of these interviews is to begin bridging the gap between the perceived “elitism” of art and the general public. I want to build a relationship by revealing the person behind the artist. I do this in the hope that understanding the person will then aid you to understand their art. My first interview features emerging painter Guy Francis Martin whose first solo show Falling Light (Bondi Pavilion Gallery) saw over a thousand visitors attend.
Picked up by Mclemoi Gallery when still a student at the National Art School, Guy is dedicated to art as a way of life. Emotion, relationships and life-experience make up the palette with which he paints the human experience.
Guy declined to be photographed while painting as he feels it is a private act, although he was open to discussing his practice. Systematically rolling cigarettes, he serves me chilled red wine, a habit picked up while traipsing around Italy a few years back.
His work begins conceptually, with an idea, that he thinks about every moment of every day. Whether sitting and having a coffee, rolling a cigarette or preparing food, life and art remain systematically combined.
“Even when I am not physically making work,” Guy explains, “I am thinking about it and writing things down, and that becomes who you are.”
Though sometimes contradictory, his subject matter is comprised of “love, loss, pain, beauty, religion, nihilism, sex, death and memory.” Of the reactions to Falling Light, the artist’s favourite moments are those when the “negativity and darkness” of his paintings are appreciated.
“The comment that has really stuck by me was something along the lines of ‘It’s good to see some darkness in the gallery of light.’ I just found that so poetic.”
The next phase in his process involves sketches and photographs done from a life model. Photographic elements from several different takes, alongside notes and sketches, are combined to become their own, singular image. These disparate elements are at once physically apart and yet intrinsic both to his self and the production of the one work.
The way Guy treats the human body – specifically the female body – is never with any intended objectification but, rather, with love. Often the figures are simply metaphors for a greater sensation. The painting is a depiction of his emotional state towards a loved one, whether or not the model is really the one that the painting depicts.
Childhood and adolescence were spent in the very picturesque, but very “isolated,” places of Pearl Beach, in the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains.
Though nature seldom makes an appearance as his subject matter (apart from the occasional quiet and moody landscape), the character of these environments, the isolation itself, certainly does. These voids of beautiful space have become a part of him, which can be seen as translated into the often-vacuous space of his paintings.
Inner city isolation means he takes a more literal approach through the depiction of lone figures, as in Foam Mattress Revelations. The composition is a reference to The Crucifixion of St Peter by Baroque painter Caravaggio, while the title of the work and stripping back of all ornamentation talks about the emotional effects of poverty among young adults.
When asked to describe himself as an artist, Guy pauses and draws out a few words slowly, contemplating the meaning of each.
He begins with “figurative,” for even though there may not always be a figure physically present in the work, every painting nonetheless remains about people and life.
Harking back to 17th Century Italy, his next carefully chosen words is “chiaroscuro,” a term that refers to the emerging of a figure from shadow. The coming out of darkness and shifting in and out of light are both a part of the subject matter and of him, which brings us to the next, loaded word.
“It is almost entirely a ‘psychological’ portrait as the first parts of the process are the thoughts and images that exist in our psyche. Either the lighting reflects that, or I put that into the painting. For me, the light has a physical weight.”
When asked to specify how, exactly, he is present in the surface of his work, Guy smiles, “Does it not intrinsically? Art is a reflection of the self.” For those of us less privy to the secrets embedded within his canvases, he employs the literal use of reflections, for example in mirrors or on the surface of water, as a metaphor for the ever-present self of the artist.
The conversation here travels along a tangent tending toward the geniuses that have shaped his view and practice of painting. Looking at his shelves piled with “picture books,” as he affectionately calls his art books, he manages (with some persuasion) to narrow it down to a select few. Among these, unsurprisingly, are Caravaggio (chiaroscuro), Francis Bacon (sensation of mind, body and emotion), Lucian Freud and Edward Munch (an early influence).
Creating is an act of pure self-expression; he paints for himself with the hope of perhaps moving other people. “I don’t think art has the responsibility to be moral in any way and – thank you to Bret Easton Ellis for putting this well – I don’t think a depiction is necessarily an endorsement.” According to our artist, once morals are taken out of the equation, one is left with emotion. “The ability to genuinely move someone, to make them genuinely feel something, definitely comes into it. This is why art is so incredibly important for everyone.”
It is clear now that, above all, Guy Francis Martin wants people to feel something when contemplating his paintings.
“No one else is going to listen to me, apart from my friends when we’re drinking!”
This last is said with a wink and smile as he toasts me with his chilled wine.
For a range of work by Guy Francis Martin, check out Artsy…
Check out Juliette’s Blog also…