Walk into a Mark Burrell painting and the viewer is held by a glow and vibrancy emanating like a magic pulse. This perfectly communicates the subject matter and sensation of his atmospheric worlds. At the heart is Burrell’s portrayal of emotion in its many subtle forms. His magic realism is woven with imagination and direct observation, conjuring up a world view seen from within. These creations express what it is to be human from the inside out, and in doing so, navigate an imaginative course between the subjective and objective. Burrell’s subject is the human condition, where feeling and emotion define not only the figures but also the space they inhabit.
There are real and imagined fairgrounds and circus folk, a theatre of life ever changing, just like real life. These fairgrounds are made of canvas, wood and metal, a merging of the past and present. Flags and balloons fly over blustery skies. You can almost smell the hotdogs and burnt onions mingling with candyfloss and the smoke of steam driven machines. Here the ‘merry-go-round’ goes around forever. Don’t be surprised to see Alice or her sister sitting with a giant rabbit!
In Firework Night there are fishermen’s cottages, old brick walls and meandering paths to hidden places. Then there are a number of paintings where the sea appears. In one painting, a swan boat with children inside glides across a choppy bay with a sunset sky that reminds me of a giant whale floating past. In another, fish have come to listen to a family of singers. Many of these boats are homely like front rooms replete with jugs of flowers, teapots and TVs inside. This is where Burrell is at his most playful.
In the painting, Looking for Godot the man seems thoroughly weighed down by heavy wings gazing outwards. ‘People searchers’ is a recurring theme, with figures appearing either as individuals or groups in boats voyaging across distant seas. Do they find what they are searching for? The answer is an emphatic yes. In Picnic in the Garden very strange things are happening. For a start it looks more like a graveyard, perhaps an unusual place to have a tea party, and yet it has its own reality; nothing seems out of place or out of context. Girl at the Window has an entirely different atmosphere. Full of evening light, a girl looks out on abundant nature, stilled in the act of waving. This is a psychological landscape where inner and outer space interacts. It is not solitary or alone; it is connected, peaceful and serene.
Sometimes politics or environmental themes enter the work. In The
Watchers (Government Bully Boys) the dark title speaks for itself. More optimistically, in Inherited Earth a boy is slowly turning what was once a toxic dumping ground back into a miniature ‘Garden of Eden’. Bits of bicycles, TVs and cut down living trees can be seen alongside exotic birds and newly planted flowers. Just above the boy is a carved angel. I take this to be a sign of great hope, although the smoking volcanoes do look a little ominous. Mark also paints the occasional portrait, three of which are in the exhibition – the painter, his partner and a close friend. These show sensitivity towards the sitters and they are painted with cooler more naturalistic colour.
Burrell’s magical paintings appear to have a narrative attached. They are like poetry. They should not be analysed too much, otherwise they lose this poetic quality. They have their own language that you appreciate just by looking. It is a world of atmosphere and feeling that seeks to evoke rather than define. Evenings, sunsets, moonlit skies and late afternoons predominate the work, with every sky being different.
Over time I have seen these intense works evolve, becoming lighter and richer in colour but with the same attention to detail that has always been his trademark. What makes the work holistic is that there is a timeless quality to it. I am reminded of old stained-glass windows (also one of his subjects) as light seems to glow out of the paintings. This jewel like appearance is achieved by many fine glazes using complementary colours. Most artists have a certain colour palette that is built up over time and Mark has certainly found his. I have yet to see another painter who uses colour in quite the way he does. The work is mostly on canvas panels, using oils and super fine brushes to create the detail, giving the paintings a strong presence. The paintings individually can take many months to create, rewarding the viewer’s eye by finding or sensing something new each time.
Mark is an established painter, who has been making art for over forty years. He is a leading member of ‘The North Sea Magical Realists’ with work appearing on television six times. As a matter of interest, he was interviewed by the popular Sister Wendy Beckett on Anglia Television’s ‘Moving Art’ programme hosted by George Melly, where his work was awarded First Prize and highly commended by Bill Oddie.
It has been my privilege to collaborate with Mark on several projects, in particular the feature documentary, Bendy Caravans & Everlasting Pens – a Portrait of Evered Wigg, where the light in his paintings is admirably demonstrated in the media of film.
To finish with Burrell’s words: “We live on a beautiful world surrounded by a magical universe, and it’s easy to forget our luck being here, when paying the bills or stuck in a traffic jam. If my paintings can remind us just a little of the strangeness, beauty, and mystery that we are and that surrounds us, then I will have done my job.”
Mark Burrell exhibition: 16th November continuing to 15thDecember 2019 Gallery open Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm or by appointment .
Chappel Galleries, Colchester Road , Chappel, Essex CO6 2DE
Credit of author: Nick Murray Brown BA/Hons actor, musician and documentary filmmaker.