Marcus Freeman's paintings are formal works, in the sense that although the painter is aware the subjects have meaning, his chief concern is simply to create the best image possible. At first sight it's tempting to assume that the artist might be interested in architecture as buildings are the overwhelming subject matter. However, the paintings are really landscape paintings, they just happen to be urban landscapes. Certainly the buildings are exceptionally unremarkable architecturally in fact they seem chosen as examples utilitarian plainness. This is quite deliberate, as any building of architectural merit or aesthetic interest would steal the show. These buildings are really just convenient, solid, immoveable objects through which to explore formal questions about the representation of three dimensional objects on canvas: how the arrangement of the few visual elements the solid surfaces and the light and shadow combine to describe form and create atmosphere with the greatest economy possible. As Jessica Lack wrote âFreeman's paintings emulate that contradiction between clarity and atmosphere'. It would not be difficult to make the canvases more atmospheric, but that would nearly always upset this balance. Peeling paint, thunderous skies and rusty iron are beautiful but imprecise elements. As it is, Freeman can measure the contribution each element makes towards these twin aims clarity and atmosphere having drawn not just dozens but often many hundreds of permutations.
Of course to an extent there is a deliberate manipulation of the subject matter (perhaps chiefly in the initial process of selecting which scenes to draw, and which drawings to work-up into canvases) which reveals a conscious exploitation of their meaning. In the most successful examples this is demonstrated by the âhard to categorise' quality of the buildings: are they work-a-day? Abandoned? Sinister? Tellingly Freeman says his ideal image would simultaneously appear as a church and a factory. Mostly they are the kind of un-heroic industrial buildings that litter our urban hinterlands but they are rendered with the kind of reverence and grandeur that was formally reserved for the engineering triumphs of the more optimistic Modern era. That optimism about technology, industry, about the very idea of progress is, if not entirely absent, then certainly muted in these paintings, as it is in most of our hearts.
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