Chelsea Arts Club 2023

Martin Fuller / Chelsea Arts Club 2023

Martin Fuller

Martin Fuller at 80: A Question of Unlearning
by Margaret Rand

‘From childhood on I’ve been a natural image-maker’ says Martin Fuller. Fuller has had a career stretching over six decades, beginning with Hornsey College of Art, a Guggenheim-McKinley Scholarship to Italy and his first show, at Bristol’s Amolfini Gallery. He has had over 20 one-man shows, including at Camden Arts Centre, been part of many group exhibitions, has won the Hunting Prize among others and has work in many public collections including the Victoria &, Albert Museum. ‘At art school there’s a danger of learning to draw objectively, which inhibits the intuition of irrational image-making.’

His latest works, on show at the Chelsea Arts Club in September, are pared-down line drawings, sometimes with some colour, sometimes not. ‘Drawing is a revelation,’ he says. ‘It’s difficult to believe that something can be so large and so small in the same rectangle, and so dark and so light. When I taught in art schools I’d say, ‘What’s the darkest object in the picture, and what’s the lightest? What’s the biggest object, and what’s the smallest? Don’t modify it, because it’s extraordinary, and always a surprise.’

The subject matter of these drawings is elusive: they’re the culmination of decades of experience and experiment, decades of playing on line and colour, of adding and layering and layering and adding and, finally, the removal of all but the essence of the moment, of accumulated moments recalling other moments. ‘It’s a route to my unconscious, an irrational dreamworld where things jump out at you; visual puns. In some ways painters have been liberated by the invention of the camera: it’s put us back in the world of invention, and association of ideas and images. We can have a visual world without words and the individual can be liberated to set their own interpretation; there’s no standard meaning.’

The rhythms of music are here too: an aria, the nightclub echo of a soprano sax, an insidious vocal line, an half-forgotten aural memory. Sound becomes sight, or the other way round. Fuller always plays music when he works, switching from Billie Holiday to Bach to Charlie Mingus to Poulenc until the music fits who he is that day. Figures on the paper dance, half-meet, elude each other. There is a cacophony of voices, or a haunting chorus; circus ponies, a twirling ballerina, an improbable acrobat. And the elements too: wind, fire, heat, rain. ‘I’m interested in the movement of figures, often with an element of vertigo. A bit of balance and danger.’ And humour too, which leads him all the way back to medieval manuscript illumination, bypassing much of modernity on the way. ‘The monks often drew with mordant humour. They seem a lot more modem than a lot of modem art.’ Fuller’s imagery is age-old, filtered through eight decades of living, distilled into the least and the most that the pen can express. ‘My motive for drawing and painting has always been to try and understand. The result is almost irrelevant.’