Sewell Gallery, Radley College, Oxon

4th October 2019

Written by Catherine Coldstream

Inspired as much by the mutability of the natural environment – the wind, the rain, and the ever-changing light – as by the ineffability of the inner human landscape, Marc Thompson’s paintings seek to evoke the mood and essence of intensely specific scenes and moments.

While apparently pictorial, Thompson’s work is more concerned with inner states and their relationship with the geophysical than with the external demands of representation. The enigma of subjectivity, ineffability, and the elusive present are the real subject matter of these paintings, which plunge the viewer in the elemental and then take them beyond the everyday, to somewhere that feels special and apart. That ‘somewhere’ is both familiar, as a universal human state, and tantalizingly other, almost dreamlike.

These acrylic canvasses are all about immersion. They take the viewer to places hauntingly recognizable as subconscious states. In a sense they are not figurative paintings at all, since their subject is not so much what meets the eye as what is hidden from it, that aspect of experience that defies description. These are sensuously cool, reflective, yet emotionally resonant paintings, that are nevertheless geographically rooted, in muted tones that suggest the feel and touch and smell of a very English rural (or coastal) environment.

Working patiently in the solitude of his East Oxford studio, Thompson allows his canvases to evolve, through a process that is as tactile and dancelike as it is technical and visual. Starting with the idea of a scene or sense of place, Thompson builds up layers of colour and form, often incorporating chance elements, confluences of acrylic pigmentation, or elements of drawing ‘blind’ to allow the unique character of each piece to emerge.

For one viewer, they may trigger a meditative state of mind, for another a grappling with the abstract structures that gives the canvasses their satisfyingly architectural feel, and for another still an encounter with the visual resonances of post-impressionism.

Although aware of the political dimensions of landscape painting in a time of climate change, Thompson’s take on the English landscape has a timeless quality, where open vistas are populated more often by birds, cattle, or sheep than by the human form. Where people do enter these silent, often numinously lucid scenes, they do so as solitary figures, subjective entities pitched against an intractable volatility of the natural world.

Speaking of his developmental process, Thompson has cited poetry, geometry, and psychoanalytical theory amongst his influences. With Edward Thomas he takes the problem of ineffability as a springboard. With Rothko, he seeks to inhabit the ‘transitional’ space associated with the creative spiritual, as identified by the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott.

And, following his earliest influence, Piero della Francesca, he embraces the mathematical and geometric underpinnings of compositional theory.

This is Thompson’s first solo show in this country, the culmination of a life in the visual arts. Although first and foremost a landscape painter, he has worked in puppetry, portraiture, furniture making, and art therapy. Trained at Banbury School of Art, Wolverhampton School of Art, and the New York College of Ceramics, he also holds a PGCE in Art Education.

Catherine Coldstream