Monday, 29 September 2008

St Mary in the Marsh by Mark Leach

St Mary in the Marsh by Mark Leach
Pastel on board, 70x50cm

is greeting me every time I enter my flat. It has had its place at the far wall of the living room for the past two years. It is my window to elsewhere; it's my window onto the fields where I grew up; not just the fields, but them on a hot high summer afternoon; when you can smell the summer as it hits your skin. The kind of summer I haven't had for a long time; but whenever I get a scent of them, once or twice a year, it is so welcome.

St Mary in the Marsh by Mark Leach
Pastel on board, 70x50cm

But for the past two years, I've got a scent, just a hint, of them whenever I enter my flat. Mark's book, Raw Colour with Pastels, had just been published when I stumbled across it on Amazon: a book on pastel, a book about abstract pastel landscapes. And it was ordered. And it proved important, resourceful, inspiring.

It isn't a how to do book but much more of a biographical account of why pastel and colour matter to this artist. It's a bit similar to a good autobiography that isn't really constructed as such.

So, I learned how to prepare my own grounds with pumice powder and acrylics; how to simplify layers and: how to paint fields, lines, more fields, more lines.

St Mary in the Marsh by Mark Leach (Detail)
Pastel on board, 70x50cm

Really, a lot of the first bits of landscape abstraction have come from that.

I discovered that Mark's paintings were still available in a variety of places - as I said, the book had just been out, and thus many of the paintings were still for sale. More by luck than anything else I stumbled across the site for St Mary in the Marsh. Blindly and wholeheartedly I had fallen in love with it. It was the singular colour of the sky - an otherwise ugly salmon pink which in another life was THE colour of the late 1980s and for good reason still has to make its comeback - , the almost halfway horizon line, the yellow of the field and the splashes of cobalt in the foreground. So I did something I hadn't done ever before: I sent him an email, and in the end bought the painting - I don't think I ever told my parents that I did that. In the process, we exchanged a few emails and I had been planning of visiting him in his studio south of London - even remember researching a tedious set of public transport connections to get there from central London.

Dear Gesa, That is wonderful news! I am so glad you are not disappointed. Always a worrying time for me - the photos can be very misleading. The painting has fond memories for me, so I am very pleased it has found a nice home. All the very best for now.. Mark

On 27 Oct 2006, at 10:48, Gesa Helms wrote:

Dear Mark, I got the paintig last night - a neighbour had signed for it while I was out. You can safely cash the cheque! I love it! It's great and there is no way I will be sending it back - those colours and textures (I will have some technique questions a bit later, if I may). It reminds me a lot of where I grew up - north west Germany with flat fields of wheat and barley on a hot summer day - it's the kind of mood you don't really get on the Scottish West coast, but now it'll be in my living room! So many thanks for this! All my best, Gesa

Brian had just written a post about Mark Leach's book. In this he mentioned that Mark had died in early July. Dear Mark, thank you so much for this painting and for the hint of a hot summer afternoon in Bokel in my flat! And for showing me the possibilities for abstraction in landscape, colour and lines and simple fields to paint the things that matter!

Please see Mark Leach's website here:
And have another look at a good quality shot of St Mary in the Marsh on his website here
An article on Mark's work appeared in the June 2007 edition of the Pastel Journal, with the PDF available here


Brian McGurgan said...

Thanks for your posts on my blog, Gesa (I replied to you there as well), and for sharing these photos and the email correspondence you had with Mark Leach. You're very fortunate to have this beautiful painting. I've found his book to be both inspiring and useful in the practical insights it's provided and know I'll turn to it again and again. And you'll have this wonderful painting to treasure for years to come...

Kari Gibson said...

Oh, that is a lovely painting! Funnily enough I just bought this book recently and it is fantastic - I think I will get a lot out of it.

Gesa said...

Hi Brian - yes, many thanks too for your post on the book - as I said: I'm curious where the people will get you to.
Yes - the painting has become a firm part of this flat, it wasn't long after I moved in that I got it; and as I say - it's good to keep seeing it again and again - I can appreciate its 'ruralness'
Kari - it's funny that you got that book too - but it's the abstract/pastel/landscape bit isn't it... and because it's written much more like a narrative, it's a good one to turn to again and again - when Brian wrote about how Mark Leach paints people, I remembered that there's lots in the book I never did all that much with. It's interesting how particular bits in a book or elsewhere speak loudly and call for attention at a particular time while others needs a couple of iterations, stay quietly for a while before becoming important.