In the 1950s the critic, Harold Rosenberg, famously wrote that “the painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of that encounter.” 1 More than half a century later this definition of abstract painting, which may now seem obvious to an insouciant 21st audience, still holds true. “What matters always”, Rosenberg continued, “is the revelation contained in that act.” This implies that painting has something unique to reveal, that hidden in its depths is some innate truth that can, through the relationship between the artist’s ‘doing’ and the viewer’s perceptive looking, heighten our awareness of what it means to be in the world. But the question remains for a painter, in a society where image and notoriety have become ubiquitous and the word ‘revelation’ has an almost archaic ring that suggests some sort of pseudo-religious experience, how to make the inert plasticity of paint and material ‘speak’ and what, in a period more concerned with sound bites than the unmasking of subtle verities, these might say?
Painting as sculpture, sculpture as painting. This dialogue forms one of the central debates within this exhibition. As Donald Judd argued in his famous essay on Specific Objects: “all paintings are spatial in one way or another … anything spaced in a rectangle and on a plane suggests something in and on something else, something in its surround, which suggests an object or figure in its space … that’s the main purpose of painting.” 2. On entering the Lisson Gallery we are confronted by the 3x3 meter cube of Behemoth, 2012, more than 2.6 meters high, made of 1.5 tons of virgin cork – that is cork from the tree’s first shedding – which has been coloured a deep dense black. Jason Martin has a studio in Portugal and spends a good deal of his time working there. Cork, therefore, is a familiar and vernacular material. 140 kilos of ivory black were suspended in a water based medium, with not much binder. As a result the pigment seems to vibrate on the surface of the cork, yet has also soaked into it to become an integral element. Built up in layers, like an interlocking pantile roof, this imperfect cube sits in the middle of the gallery floor like something burnt or charred. There is a suggestion of the alchemical and the transformative, of something elemental rising from the ashes. What is lightweight is given the illusion of heaviness. What appears to have been destroyed or damaged suggests the possibility of renewal. The form resonates with an interior life as fugitive light that is trapped within is filtered through the crevices to create a tension between the outer surface and the hidden interior. Here the language of painting and the language of sculpture coalesce.
Jason Martin Infinite at Lisson Gallery from 11 May to 23 June 2012