the Hunting Prize 1997

Martin Fuller | Winner, the Hunting Prize 1997

Martin Fuller’s most recent London exhibition, of work on paper, held in the summer of 2003 at Jonathan Clark Fine Art, saw him paired with that distinguished mid-20th century narrative surrealist, Edward Burra. It was an association that perhaps invited invidious comparison, for Burra, now safely dead, is secure and expensive in his reputation, while Fuller, though a regular exhibitor over the years, is not as widely known as perhaps he should be. But Clerk, as discriminating a dealer as there is, specialising in Modern British art, could see the connection well enough, and in the event Fuller more than held his own.

For Fuller too, like Burra, has not only produced quite as substantial proportion of his entire oeuvre on paper, but also bears close and sympathetic comparison to him in relation to his subject matter. In short, both have always been drawn to the more louche and seedy aspects of modern life, and if for Burra this meant the narrow red-lit streets of old Marseilles, with their bars and tarts, for Fuller it has been the dives and pubs of Soho, and the spotlit, magically ambiguous world of Opera and Cabaret.

An expressionist in his manner, he has always been a figurative and a narrative painter, concerned with episode and incident, much of it autobiographical, yet never explicitly so, end often wilfully ambiguous and loose in the actual statement of the image, at times almost to the point of abstraction. The men and women in the half-world of his imagination move through fragmented, shallow, impossible spaces as in a dream, yet ever credible for all that, as in a dream. Down the stairs they come, lean against the bar, take a drink, eye each other up, and down. Girls dance across the stage, diaphanous, transparent in the light, or, as in a circus, swing high or low on the trapeze. It was by just such a painting, of a girl naked on a swing, shining pale in the black night like Diana the Huntress beneath the moon, that he won the prize.