"Marguerite Horner performs a simple, ancient but profound trick with her paintings. She takes a sheet of primed canvas or paper and makes it glow as if lit from within. Physically, the white is no more white than it was before she touched it, but spiritually it is transformed.The markings Horner makes serve not so much to represent views of the world around us, as to activate what lies behind them a quality not to be named, only touched on. A walk in the open with a camera has presented her with an epiphany, some angle of approach on whatever is real."
This is an airy, untrammelled pictorial world. The street and its concerns have been left behind. Colours have been left behind, almost - or rather, it is as if we were looking into a pure glow that is the sum of all pure colours. These skies and seas and trees are ghostly, if we read 'ghost' in its old spiritual sense. And yet there is a material particularity to each of Horner's large and arresting canvases."
Often a cunning interplay of divergent pigments only reveals itself in a doubletake. There is an equal cunning to her compositional stragegies - the daring imbalances of above and below, the barriers she throws across the act of vision. Those barriers - ripples, branches, clouds - become flowing calligraphic performances. This is committed oil painting, and full of the medium's pleasures. It comes from a painter who has considered her aesthetic options carefully, having secured a wide-ranging technical command."
There are many ways one might set Horner's act in context: in the art school where I encountered her work, the talk would have been about photo-painters like Gerhard Richter. I think of her more as an English individualist, and a distinctively northern one: her light-flecked thickets put me in mind of the late 19th-century painter Atkinson Grimshaw. "
Author of 'What is Painting' and 'Mirror of the World, A New History of Art' writes of Marguerites work...
The intrigue of her work depends partly on the knife-edge balance maintained between painterliness and hard-edge photo-realism by varying the sharpness of focus….
Her natural talent combined with an intensity of looking lead her to begin as a landscape painter of more than average ability, using immediately recognizable styles.
Frances Spalding : ARTS REVIEW
Jane Neal : SAATCHI CRITICS CHOICE
Selected writings and Reviews on the Artists work
‘If you could say it in words, there would be no need to paint.’
‘What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.’
Both remarks are from the revered painter of isolation, alienation and loneliness, making for the spectator poetry out of banality: the American Edward Hopper, (1882-1967). He was the seeker of scenes both in the countryside of New England and in big cities,from hotel rooms to those white framed colonial houses dappled with cool sunlight.
Marguerite Horner’s paintings are both vastly different but obliquely refer to these 20th and 21st century preoccupations, so that Hopper’s stance and commitment seem resonant and relevant. Above all, Horner’s vision takes the ordinary, and makes of it something elusive, subtle, haunting, poetic: things we all see but pass by. This is done without a sharp focus searchlight, but in tones and hues of the softest of misty colours, that elusive look before the sun has burnt through, with a very occasional almost shocking blue and even red as startling punctuation. But it is the modulated grey sky, the ranges of cool whites which dominate. One title is In the Middle of Nowhere, but Horner reminds us that nowhere is always somewhere. Above all her paintings leave such room for the reflections of the viewer’s imagination, space for us to respond. She does not tell, she shows.
The subject matter of Marguerite Horner’s paintings, almost all in her characteristic beguiling and fascinatingly subtle gradations of silvery greys, are based on scenes glimpsed in small towns, occasional big cities, and rarely an excursion into nature, or rather, a segment of wooded landscape, the kind of wood that is on the edge or the road, where you might park your car and venture for a moment.
There are isolated houses, parking lots, and several scenes are delineated, framed, marked by sequences of electrical or telephonic wires and poles and fences at vertical or diagonals. It is as though the spectator were looking through to the scene beyond. These lines in space, and occasionally wintry trees their branches stripped of leaves, subtly anchor the solidity of houses and tangles of tree trunks. Human presences occasionally obtrude, even intrude, but equally may be as essential and as rock solid as the buildings, roads and cars of the townscape.
Edward Hopper again: ‘My aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impression of nature.’
Hopper, eloquent yet reticent, speaks for many artists. By nature he too meant the manmade, the environment people inhabit. But vision is transmuted always individually. And it is the individual aspect of Horner’s paintings that capture the eye. The resemblance to any other artist is illusory and superficial, although of course a sense both of the history of art and design informs her work. It is much more a sense of a shared mood, a profound commitment, and an extraordinary tenacity and determination.
Professionally, when starting out after her initial degree, Marguerite received further specialist training for what to lay people must seem an arcane preoccupation, currently transformed and changed beyond recognition in the digital age, but then absolutely hand done: she became a scene painter for BBC television, no stranger to the transformative qualities of paint, and to the art of illusion. She had a further career as the visual collaborator with photographers and the print media, a scene setter herself. Through these years she expanded a special understanding both of actual materials and of compositions, and of how visual messages were communicated. Then, briefs were set; now she sets her own. But she has spoken of the very nature of understanding the actual materiality of paint, on large and small scale, that these years amplified for her, not to mention the understanding of arrangements and installations. It speaks to the confident understructure of her compositions: and compositions they are. Yet the profound difference is of course that here compositions are dictated by Marguerite’s mind’s eye, the individual gaze, with no collaboration with extrinsic demands.
Her current imagery is based on her own photographs mostly taken during a prolonged stay in Long Island and New York. The more one looks at photographs, whether analogue or digital, one realises that the mechanics are just the beginning, the medium so to speak, as paint is; what matters, totally crucial, is the eye behind the camera.
Many of Marguerite’s images are captured as though the photographer was rooted to the ground; others from a slightly elevated point of view (subliminally reminiscent of late 19th century townscapes, from first or second story windows) and some taken through the windows of commuter trains. Small town America has a long lineage of examination not only through art but through literature, sometimes celebrated even sentimentalised, as in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, sometimes the subject of tragedy, and sometimes as in the clusters of suburbia and commuter towns, a sense of emptiness, of lives lived elsewhere. Most people live in conurbations, but the myth of the small town, the village, remains strong, and particularly perhaps in America with its folk memory of New England town meetings, of early participatory democracy. And now these shells of emptiness dominate, the stuff of thrillers – Harlan Coben comes to mind – of places from which to escape. The fact that we recognise Marguerite Horner’s current subject matter is itself a tribute to the myth, and we recognise these scenes as backdrops to seemingly invisible lives, emotional lives, as sets if you like, sets created by myriad hands through time, and in many ways drained of life. These townscapes, and landscapes, and isolated houses with a play of light like Magritte – night glowing into day – are both concrete, (although not necessarily reassuringly so) and insubstantial, almost like dreams.
Yet verbal descriptions can all too easily make Marguerite Horner’s paintings sound commonplace. The subjects may deliberately partake of the substance of the day to day: but the artist’s dexterity of hand, designer’s eye and heartfelt imagination lift the ordinary into the extraordinary, and the specific into the universal. As her title for this current exhibition says, these paintings are about the seen and the unseen, the life behind the eye as well as the life in front of it.
Marina Vaizey is a writer; curator and formerly the Art critic for the Financial Times and the Sunday Times and a Judge for the Turner prize.
The catalogue essay for 'Cars and Streets' Marguerite Horners
solo exhibition at Art Bermondsey Project Space 2015. by Anna McNay
The Sufi Master Pir Vilayat Inayay Khan once said: 'To bring the sublime into the mundane is the greatest challenge there is'. The sublime, ideas of which are generally dated back to the first century AD, when the Greek critic Longinus wrote an aesthetic treatise on the subject, is largely associated with greatness, awe and something exceeding human understanding or representation. Kant suggests it has power to transform and uplift, to make human reason transcend sensibility, by confronting it with something at first seemingly incomprehensible. His focus - as well as that of his predecessor Edmund Burke - is upon nature and the divine as sources for sublime experiences, and this can be seen in contemporary 18th and 19th-century artworks such as Casper David Friedrich, JMW Turner and John Martin.
Marguerite Horner's paintings might therefore appear to depict the polar opposite of the sublime. Her suburban streets and highways, deserted parking lots, cars, telegraph poles and wires, largely inspire by her experiences of small town America, are the stuff of the everyday - mundane, quotidian, manmade. Yet, with their grisaille palette, fluctuating between being crisply focused and blurred to the point of obfuscation, there is something uncanny about these otherwise easily recognisable scenes. They are familiar, yet strange - estranged. Freud delineates the uncanny as 'that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar, as 'nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old- established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression'. He drew a distinction between the uncanny and the sublime, by imbuing the latter with solely positive attributes, 'rather than with the opposite feelings of repulsion and distress'. the uncanny, on the other hand, he classed as those things 'which lie within the field of what is frightening'. This is false on two counts: (i) his interpretation of the sublime is somewhat rose-tinted, since it is often associated, in the first instance, with terror and horror, and (ii) this very process of alienation and repression, which Freud attributes to the uncanny, is what leads to Kant's transcendental encounter with the sublime.
Consider, for example, the incident with the madeleine in Proust's Combray. Describing the moment of tasting the known-but-unknown delicacy, Proust writes:...this new sensation having had on me the effect that love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me. I had ceased to feel mefiocre, contingent, mortal.' His description is of a form of self-transcenence, an encounter with the sublime, triggered through an encounter with the alienated and forgotten, the known-but-unknown, the uncanny. In the same way, Horner's paintinggs serve to trigger a memory. In their veiled state, they seek not to represent, but to signify. They seek to fill their viewer with an essence. This realisation and resultant introspection then suggests that Horner's paintings have succeeded in meeting the Sufi master's challenge: a seemingly mundane image, like the simple madeleine, can contain the seed, or essence, of a memory or state, that can lead the viewer to transcend his or her physical being and cease to feel 'mediocre, contingent, mortal'.
Simon Morley, discussing the distinction between the beautiful and the sublime, notes that beauty is static, that we are charmed, seduced and captivated by it, while the sublime transports, moves and dislocates us from our self. He references how Arther Schopenhauer explored the fissure that lies at the heart of being, and envisaged a self that can in certain situations observe itself in the very act of confrontng a fearful inner abyss'. It is this inner abyss that Horner captures so strikingly in her paintings: a sense of lonliness and emptiness, a far greater and more terrifying phenomenon than anything nature can offer. As Derrida observes, contary to Kant and Burke: 'The sublime is not in nature but only in ourselves'. Horner herself speaks of taking inspiration from Jung, when he declared a similar, if reversed observation: 'For the only equivalent of the universe within is the universe without'. She says: 'In my paintings, I strive to capture the meaningful dialogue between my internal and external realities, which are metaphorically portrayed, by using images intuitively taken from my passing landscape'.
To return to Morley's notion that the sublime transports, moves and dislocates us from our self, we begin to understand the latent symbolism of Horner's cars: parked or frozen in movement, they are vehicles of transcendence, transporting the viewer from within to without, from without to within. Her use of blurring, reminiscent of Gerhard Richter's use of the squeegee, has the duel effect. Firstly, it suggests transience - a sense of passing by, of motion. Secondly, like the veiling of the greyscale palette, it reduces the image to the bare minimum - the Proustian essence. Richter, speaking of his own use of the technique, says: 'I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant. [...] I blur things to make all the parts a closer fit. Perhaps I also blur out the excess of unimportant information'. In terms of the sublime, these blurred passages represent what Lyotard terms: 'a cleavage within the subject between what can be conceived and what can be imagined or presented'. They are the physical, painterly manifestation of this fissure.
Derrida, in his essay 'Parergon', focuses attention not on the object of contemplation (the work, or 'ergon'), but on its boundary. He speaks of the need to frame something to prevent it from becoming merely monstrous. Horner's paintings are full of frames within frames: the grey skies, streets, and parking lots are bisected by bright white road markings, lamp posts, trees, and telegraph wires. In 'Boxed In' (2010), the block of flats is set in a vivid red square, restricting the main frame of reference to a fraction of the composition, with the mundane continuing all around. Within this red frame, a myriad windows - further, smaller frames - push up against one another. Each offers a different (albeit the same) viewpoint, a reflection of the outer world. This segment could be seen from any angle, upside down, it would make no difference. Pixelated imagery, like reflections on the retina, multiple tiny photograms, just prior to being interpreted into a coherent image by the mind. Horner speaks of a constant dialogue between the mark and the inner eye in the process of her painting. The same is true for the viewer as he or she interprets it. Horner is providing just the ingredients - the flour and lemon juice of the madeleine - an asking viwers to reconstruct their own memories - to recognise in the universe without, their own universe within and to confront and transcend this inner abyss. In so doing, she is bringing the sublime into the mundane.
...For Marguerite Horner, every painting starts from a moment of reverie, when something seen feel more than usually significant. She has built up a huge photographic archive of stilled moments, many of them taken on an American road trip more than 20 years ago. She stayed for a time on Long Island and travelled every day into Manhatten, and her grisaille paintings are reinterpreted moments unfrozen from that visual treasury. What the photo depicts is not in a sense important, though certain features such as telegraph poles and wires, and the uprights of houses and trees, are a constant articulation of the space she evokes, and clearly provide the needed horizontal and vertical axes of her formal structures. But however banal the ostensible subject, Horner wishes to induce a reflective mood in the spectator, an examination of the inner world rather than the outer. Her dust-coloured paintings (mixed from Madder brown and Prussian blue) induce calm and meditation. The viewer initially identifies with this monochrome world (black and white film, or early TV) as a form of voluntary nostalgia, until closer study of the paintings reveals their incompleteness. Horner's flattened forms are things seen in sunlight, and what you see is what you get: the part of the car in the lght, not the rest of it in shadow, the facade of the building without a suggestion of what might be behind. The illusion is painfully partial and truly unnerving.....
Andrew Lambirth Febuary-March 2016. ( formerly Art writer for 'The Spectator' )
The catalogue essay for Edgelands exhibition at the Crypt Gallery,
St Marylebone Church, London 2016. By Andrew Lambirth.
JANE NEAL is an Oxford-based freelance critic and curator. She contributes to a wide variety of international art publications including Art in America, Art Review, Flash Art, Map Magazine and Modern Painters, and writes regularly for The Telegraph. Jane Neal was formerly the Artistic Director at Calvert 22. Neal curated the landmark 2006-07 Cluj Connection exhibition at Haunch of Venison, Zurich. In 2007, she curated the critically acclaimed Across the Trees: Romanian Art Now at David Nolan Gallery in New York.