"What I'm after," said RS Thomas, "is to demonstrate that man is spiritual." These words whistled into my head when I first saw the pictures of David Marl. He makes small, quiet paintings filled with vision. Lonely walkers pace through illuminated landscapes; silent players in distant dramas. We see figures, like tiny Giacometti plasters, stepping out across rolling hills, journeymen, pilgrims in the universe of painting where birds fly across heaven and earth, weaving the whole together.
When you know that David Marl studied stained glass at the Royal College the light that shines out of these small windows elicits a comprehending, “Aah!” The paintings are lit from within and glimmer like ‘the blue and the dim and the dark cloths’.*
Painting, that is, meaningful painting, actually runs away from meaning. It has its own internalised rationale or, it might be said, with apologies to Pascal, that painting, like ‘the heart, has reasons that reason doesn’t really understand’. This is why it’s not enough to view the paintings as illustrations or to read the titles as explanations.
They are reminiscent in some ways of Poussin’s landscapes but more than that they make me think of Blake and Palmer. I was driving south from Warminster the other day over the downland in the twilight and I began to see David Marl’s hills ahead of me. I had thought the landscapes in the paintings rather formal and mannered but then I realised that these are very English landscapes and that these paintings are the wistful witness of an English gentleman.
*Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by WB Yeats
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