Will Martyr: You Gave Me Paradise
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Will Martyr: You Gave Me Paradise

This week Will Martyr’s solo show, You Gave Me Paradise, opens at Unit London. This is Martyr’s third solo exhibition with the gallery and his largest body of work to date. 

Martyr’s exhibition explores the connections between memories, people and their environments. These peaceful artworks examine how our immediate surroundings can affect our interior lives, including our most profound desires. In order to uncover this relationship between spaces and emotions, Martyr has chosen to include figures in his works for the first time, a transition he has been musing on for some time. These artworks continue to present the idealised, yet universal, locations of rest and relaxation. At the same time, the choice to involve figures, specifically a woman, instils the pieces with a sense of humanity, warmth and companionship.

Curator and writer, Paul Carey-Kent, analyses this new inclusion of figures: Recently, however, a woman has entered. Typically, she is poolside:  because that is the location of a relaxed relationship; because holidays are when we most typically take photographs of our loved ones; and because Martyr says he sees the depiction of water and woman together as symbolising ‘fertility, youth, nurturing and purity’. The locations are still combinations of many, but the woman is specific: Martyr’s wife, Suzanne… These paintings are – like love poems – made for a particular muse, and are concerned – like love poems – with the unique qualities of a particular relationship, even if the broad nature of the experience is a common one.

Martyr in his studio, 2021 

Martyr has equally included an immersive element to his exhibition, intensifying this feeling of intimacy. His painted deckchairs, redolent of brighter and warmer days, transport viewers to spaces of escape. Reinforcing the exhibition’s overarching theme of close companionship, these pieces resonate with us all, reminding us of some of our fondest memories. Despite these changes, Martyr’s new body of work still depicts the sleek and almost utopian locations that have come before, retaining the artist’s signature aesthetic. Carey-Kent comments on the influences behind Martyr’s specific visual language: “We can also ask of any painter: how do they relate to all that’s gone before? I’d say that Martyr combines two primary influences. First, an abstract tradition centred on the exploration of colour and structure: Ellsworth Kelly, Al Held and Peter Halley come to mind. Second, a Pop preference for clarity, crispness and the suppression of the artist’s hand, as if the image had arrived mechanically: as in say James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselman and Roy Lichtenstein.” 

Martyr’s smooth and perfected aesthetic continues to render these beguiling locations, while turning to something altogether more personal. During a time when we have all longed for human connection more than ever, these artworks evoke the intimacy of a relationship in which all hopes and aspirations have become intertwined. By inserting figures into these previously unpopulated worlds, You Gave Me Paradise captures sensations of warmth and compassion, encapsulating how it feels to share your life with someone.

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