William Packer


Is it a domestic, or a public stage: is it indeed a domestic, as they say? For there is, in Martin Fuller’s work, often a clear touch of asperity to the image: a certain sense, if not of explicitly sexual, at least of emotional tension, and an unspoken crackle in the air, a quarrel even, a lovers’ or a rivals’ tiff. A woman – for it is sure to be a woman – turns sharply away, at once the victim and indeed the cause of that fixed, unforgiving, female glare from across the room. An eyebrow is raised, a glass drained. Somewhere a man is sure to be looking on, hanging his head. High heels clatter on the basement flags – for it is sure to be a louche dive or ‘boite’ of some sort, where this little drama is being played out. Do we hear a foot stamp?

Even when Fuller moves out onto a more public stage, that sense of social danger remains. For with the opera, the dance, the circus or just the play, we still feel that expectant thrill of the disaster that is not to happen. We hope, we even know the dancer will still be caught by the man in tights, the acrobat stay safely one-footed on the horse, the diva not fall off the stage, the actor not forget his lines. Yet the spotlight is always on. The fear is always there.

Fuller’s, then, in its essential subject material, on public or private stage alike, is manifestly a narrative, a dramatic art, drawn with a quietly ironical eye upon the eternal tragi-comedy of life. Is it to a degree autobiographical? Who dare say?- though he has, to be sure, to those who over the years have come to know the ‘dramatis personae’ well enough, a decided flair for the hinted likeness. As with the novel, the ‘roman a clef’, it doesn’t always do, perhaps, to turn the key. It is a question, nevertheless, that draws us in ever the more closely, the closer in he moves, and the sharper into focus he draws his subject.

The closer, the better. The larger they are, the more characterful his figures become. Standing at the bar, sitting at the table, raising glasses, exchanging glances, they are powerful and authentic presences. In all this, he too is clearly taking social risks, living mischievously. But what makes his work properly remarkable is not just the imagery as narrative, but rather the degree to which such risk and danger are matched in the actual making of the paintings themselves. For Fuller is a true expressionist, not in any self-consciously adopted way after the modern fashion, but rather in working as he has always done with a direct insistence upon the immediacy of the mark and the essential necessities of the process. Here there are no corrections, only alterations as the image, and with it the idea, develops. And if such method would seem to be arbitrary or instinctive, it is in the reality cleverer than it looks. Ful1er is a painter of long and deep experience. He knows the risks he takes. And he survives them splendidly.

William Packer
October 2007