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Review: Martin Greenland: Second Novels exhibition, Tullie House, Carlisle

Not all landscape artists paint exactly what they see. An example is Martin Greenland. Alan Sykes visited his latest exhibition

Perfect Evening by Martin Greenland
Perfect Evening by Martin Greenland

Currently showing at the Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle are surreal landscapes showing the progress of Martin Greenland’s work since he won the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize in 2006.

The judges that year included artist Tracey Emin and veteran pop artist Sir Peter Blake.

Greenland said of his winning painting, Before Vermeer’s Clouds, that it “is unusual in that it contains necessarily a copied element, namely the sky from A View of Delft, a work that has fascinated me for 30 years.

“Originally to be titled A Vision of Heaven, my painting had to have the same appearance of stability and unhurried peace as Vermeer’s, and incorporate as many elements of the stable or perpetual as could be organised. For me it should be an embodiment of stability but also intrigue.”

Greenland, originally from Marsden in North Yorkshire, is now based in Cumbria, near Lake Windermere. There is no shortage of wonderful landscapes here but the artists creates pictures that are very far from the traditional views of the Lake District.

Although at first glance the scenes he depicts seem familiar and naturalistic, closer examination shows that what you are seeing is the product of the artist’s imagination rather than of the dramatic lakes and fells that surround him every day.

The artist admits that sometimes he is tempted simply to record what he sees.

Western Landscape by Martin Greenland
Western Landscape by Martin Greenland

He explains, however: “I’m inventing paintings because I want to bring other ideas together. I have to do it very carefully so it doesn’t spoil the whole thing.

“I’m still very concerned about atmosphere and the creation of a particular sense of space, time of day, whatever it might be.”

He has also said: “Painting is like a walk. On a walk I’m in the real world but I’m also wonderfully lost in my own world which is my own interpretation of it.

“Here I’m taking it all in – (then) in the studio I’m letting it all out, then embellishing it, adding to it, discarding parts, dissecting it, scattering its parts and allowing them to mingle with imagery from my memory or imagination.”

In the works in this exhibition, green predominates – usually a fairly dark green – and the skyscapes can be dark as well.

Little Hill Town by Martin Greenland
Little Hill Town by Martin Greenland

The sometimes dark bulk of the painting can make flashes of brightness seem even more vivid – in the flames of the small bonfire in Western Landscape, for example, echoing the first sunset pink of some of the clouds.

In Perfect Evening, the fading sunlight in the distance catches what look like the Simonside hills, while in the foreground a dirt road winds through a shady glade. Greenland says: “I like twilight. I like very close related tones and I’m interested in darkness. I’m interested in the experience of walking and moving through a landscape and the uncertainties that go with that.”

Greenland’s work repays quiet contemplation. There is often something unexpected, often dream-like, lurking on an apparently familiar surface.

In After the Flood there is a zeppelin-like floating arc, while in several paintings a mysterious multi-coloured cylindrical structure appears – Greenland says he saw a picture of a similar building, a minaret, in a book on the Silk Road, and it transports well to the verdant northern landscape of his imagination.

Although humanity’s structures and detritus are often present, the artist has consciously decided never to include any human figures.

Martin Greenland: Second Novels exhibition is well worth a trip along the A69. It is on at Tullie House, Carlisle, until June 15.


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