Marsh provides something of a conundrum. He seems happy with the simple things -like painting: its action and its stylistic concerns. In this way he leaves himself open to charges from some quarters as being self-serving or making meaningless art. But, of course, not all artists must make work which communicates big ideas to people in direct, figurative ways. In other words, a gnawing aspect to Marsh’s art is that it falls under the umbrella title of ‘abstract art’.
This makes Darren Marsh immediately difficult for one key reason: his art conjures with abstract concepts like emotions... yet how do you find concrete terms for abstractions? How does an artist convey abstract terms? And then, how does a critic asses the artist’s effort or the resultant piece itself? Such rhetoric recalls debates surrounding abstract art throughout the 20th century which do not need recounting here.
The point is that Marsh is unashamedly rooted in the tradition of artists who are intrigued by the abstract, obscure side of things –things like human emotion. In dealing with abstraction, with abstract terms, Marsh leaves scant ground for a critic to grapple on –or, for that matter, scant ground for an audience to grasp. After all, it is hard to find concrete terms for abstractions like emotion in conversation and in writing, let alone in art.
What one can settle on is the fact that Marsh is a ‘maker’ of images, not an appropriator. He has a calm and considered approach to his work, making pieces in various media which juxtapose a loose, random look with a neat and tidy presentation. Their worked, nebulous surfaces interest the eye, drawing viewers in through the many levels which have been drafted up and scrubbed off. Process over product, evidently, is key to Marsh.
Marsh is largely working in a style which is best described, to a broad readership, as abstract expressionism. And, in terms of art, that’s passé, which compounds the conundrum of Darren Marsh.
What’s more, he’s working on a small rather than large scale -something which confounds the cliché of figures in abstract painting like Jackson ‘jack the dripper’ Pollock labouring over giant canvases. Maybe this is good given that it bucks cliché rather than genuflects to the great gods of abstract painting. In a palpable sense, Marsh is very much the individual forging his own way with abstract painting –not following in anyone’s footsteps. And that, of course, lends itself to discovery and the much sought-for originality (rather than the cult of copying). Marsh, it can be said, is one of few despite working in, what is for a great many in the visual arts, an unoriginal medium and style.
So what does he do? Marsh is working in various media (aluminium, wood, cardboard, canvas, MDF); as are the concerns of contemporary artists no longer restricted to a medium of choice and a lifelong devotion to that choice.
So what sets Marsh apart? These are quiet pieces –there’s no bravura in the small scale. These are delicately finished pieces despite looking, on the prima facie evidence, as messy. There’s order and a calm hand at work –not a frenzied attack on the canvas in search of some feigned, but faux, emotive resonance.
So the attitude is cool.
Marsh himself is quiet, not showy –rarely showing and with a complete disregard for the hype-heavy antics of what can be termed the ‘PR-tists’ who are ubiquitous today.
That Marsh’s art is unashamedly personalised is important to him. When pushed for answers, Marsh says he is driven by the big, universal, rhythmical tides of nature: life and death… but these are inspirations which he chooses not to bat about as many artists do.
Marsh is not a big talker. In fact, Marsh could be described as a bashful painter who prefers to give an eyeful -a mindful- rather than an earful.
He cares about painting. About the surface –and beyond. About beauty –and abstraction. In short, Marsh’s quiet little pieces offer abstract representations of a reality beyond words: pieces which have nothing recognizable invested in them so as to allow the maximum opportunity for viewers to make their own view.
Tim Birch, 2004