You Gave Me Paradise
You Gave Me Paradise, Will Martyr's third solo exhibition with Unit London, explores the relationship between memories, people and their environments, examining how our surroundings impact our emotional states, as well as our desires.
You Gave Me Paradise sees Martyr develop his practice to incorporate figures, a transition he has been thinking about for many years. This body of work continues to depict the rarefied yet universally familiar locations of rest and relaxation that were so prominent in Wanderlust (2017) and Fathoms (2018), however the inclusion of figures imbues the pieces with an increased sense of humanity. In this exhibition, Martyr reflects on the beauty and strength of intimate relationships, charting how they evolve and grow stronger over time.
"You Gave Me Paradise is an exhibition that has developed into an intensely personal reflection on my closest relationship."
In Martyr’s past two exhibitions the works depicted sleek, modernist interiors set within expansive landscapes that were simultaneously seductive yet impossibly utopian.
Martyr has kept these alluring locations in the work, yet his attention has now turned to a more personal experience. Looking at his own personal relationships, the artist is meditating on the joy of sharing a life, and how it feels to combine your hopes and aspirations with another’s.
You Gave Me Paradise has an overwhelming feel of warmth and compassion. In placing figures throughout the works, Martyr is introducing companions into his previously uninhabited worlds.
The surroundings remain indelibly seductive, but are almost obscured by the close, relaxed and unguarded human presence. The figures include elements of narrative in the work, and increase their ability to act as surfaces for the projection of hopes and memories, allowing the viewer to project onto the piece, escaping into a stylised world with whoever they wish. These works were made following a year in which human connection was drastically restricted; they offer a vibrant sense of hope and resilience, one that chimes with our current enhanced desire to connect with others.
Writer and Curator, Paul Carey-Kent, on Will Martyr's You Gave Me Paradise:
"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. Do we need to know who she is? On the one hand, no. These are far from being portraits: we see glimpses only, never her full body or her face, and that makes it easier for viewers to imagine themselves as the companion of the figure glimpsed. On the other hand, yes. 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. Just as the chairs stand in for people, one muse stands in for all possible muses: these are paintings about everyone’s intimacy. That’s reinforced by Martyr’s formats. The double life size scale of the large tondos makes us feel we are up close; and the painting of smaller works on beach chairs – which, after all, have a canvas seat at the ready – hints at the bodily contact of sitting on them while providing a novel frame when hung on the wall.
Martyr’s finely-honed technique is geared to the invocation of these perfect memories. Once he has combined figure and landscape sources into a digital image that satisfies him, he makes a drawing on the canvas to be used. This will be an analytically precise delineation of the colour zones to be painted, rather like a ‘paint by numbers’ prior to any painting (quite different from exploring a subject through drawings as an end in itself, which Martyr also does). He then plots which acrylic colours - of the hundred-odd he chooses and mixes himself for each painting - will be required at each point, and uses masking tape and scalpel to ensure that the boundaries between them are precise. Martyr paints 3-7 seven layers to achieve an obsessively meticulous and luminous finish. He finds that vivid colour ‘seems to heighten the intensity of the almost unrealisable setting that I depict. The colour contrasts coupled with the hard-edged nature of my work are at times so combative that the paintings seem to pulse.’ It isn’t easily achieved. Each painting takes months – not that effort is the point: artists have to do whatever it takes to realise their vision. The result isn’t hyper-realistic, as Martyr extracts the structural essence from his sources rather than imitating them – but it is hyper-realised. "