Words by Hannah Tapping
Mark Surridge’s new body of work draws on the natural world and the celestial digest for its visual inspiration.
I meet Mark Surridge at his converted chapel, deep in the Cornish countryside. A labour of love in itself, Surridge and partner Lisa Wright – also a renowned artist – moved there in 1997, transforming a crumbling place of worship into their home and studio. With family grown up and flown from the nest, both now work out of studios at Cornubian Arts & Science Trust (CAST) in Helston, with the chapel now housing post-exhibition work. The vaulted ceilings and vast windows give a quality of light to match any exhibition space and it’s here that Surridge talks me through his latest work.
‘Hemisphere ll’ – acrylic on gesso panel 40x40cm
In 2018 Surridge was selected for The Waiheke Art Residency in New Zealand where he spent three months making work which featured a solo exhibition, The Shape of the Walk, at The Waiheke Community Art Gallery. It was during this 12-week period that the seed of an idea for making a series of paintings which use GPS technology to map a walk really began to germinate. The walks became the starting point for Surridge’s work in the studio. “The residency on Waiheke Island has been pivotal to my practice, a sense of renewal and a deeper focus has manifested itself within me not only to map the terrain but to own it in my paintings.”
The pieces we are looking at today are from his latest solo exhibition, Walking the Stone, held at the end of this summer at Tremenheere Gallery, Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens and in association with his gallery representatives Coates and Scarry.
‘Astral Land V’ – acrylic and ilmenite on canvas 60x50cm
Left: ‘Rising Ground I’ – acrylic on paper 28x38cm | Right: ‘Outcrop 2’ – acrylic on paper 34x28cm
‘Blue Motus’ – acrylic and ilmenite on canvas 150x120cm
For the exhibition in Cornwall, Surridge took his inspiration from walks around the county’s ancient monument sites, taking in to view their megalithic structures and monolithic stones. However, the walks impact on the paintings in a far less obvious way than one would imagine. Our perception of a traditional landscape painting is that of immediately recognisable sky and trees and paths and rocks. The paintings themselves contain within them a more dream-like suggestion of the landscape, employing aspects of abstraction, shape, colour and texture to create a mood and feeling.
He explains that as he walks he is not always scrutinising the landscape; he might be thinking about something else or have an awareness of what is around him through a tunnel of peripheral vision which may affect the final paintings. In the studio he strives for simplicity of the experience through colour, for instance: “I don’t want the landscape to dictate exactly what I should be doing, and what’s on each painting. It’s more of a sensation. Sometimes I might want to push the colour key up a little bit. Sometimes I might mix up some colours that suggest to me the essence of the walk.”
Surridge tracks his walks on a GPS app: “Each route taken creates a shape, the shape doesn’t always end up in each painting though, but it’s a hook.” There is evidence of these black route shapes on several of the paintings we look at, overlaying the dominant colours. The lines are almost graffiti-esque, a term that Surridge is wary of: “I’m not sure I like that term as it implies I don’t care, but I do like the marks an airbrush makes and the way it brings a graphic element to the work.”
‘Astral Land II’ – acrylic on canvas 60x50cm
‘Land Forms (Earth)’ – acrylic and ilmenite on canvas 120cmx240cm
There is also the placement of dots on many of the paintings that I’m curious about. Surridge explains: “While I was researching GPS I started to read a lot about satellites orbiting, so the first bodies of work were a bit more about outer space. The idea of looking down on earth and seeing someone moving from above. I like to explore new ideas, there are a lot of painters that are known for just doing one ‘thing’ and that’s what they do. For me, I want reasons for making a painting and that process can lead to new discoveries. The dots became a way of bringing in the idea of the orbiting satellites. At first these circles represented actual satellites but then they suggested visual markers of people walking in the landscape, also they became a formal device for making your eye move around the painting. The dots draw your eye around the painting almost like a visual game and another way of appreciating the surface.
“The dots then became a way of finishing a painting. Some of the initial colour washes on the canvas happened quite quickly, so there was something about the slowing down in the making of these graphic dots that appealed. It introduced a different pace to the way I work and I enjoyed the additional precision the dots brought to the paintings.”
Image courtesy of Lucie Averill
There is further reference to the dots in Surridge’s smaller, circular panel paintings. These cut panels, with a smooth surface built up with numerous layers of gesso result in a 3D effect, suggesting depth and enhanced by the effect of the airbrushing. They are a departure from Surridge’s signature large canvases and work on a more domestic level. We discuss how they would work well as a ceramic surface design; a collaboration that Surridge is keen to explore in the future.
Left: ‘Blue Latitude’ – acrylic and ilmenite on canvas 150x120cm
Right: ‘The Forgotten Footpath (Green)’ – acrylic and ilmenite on canvas 150x120cm
There are times during his walks that Surridge photographs natural objects found in the landscape, especially the stones, which he would then make preparatory sketches of before committing to canvas: “Sometimes you can see the drawings in the foreground, other times they are still there, but get covered as the painting transitions through the various layers. And I like that idea, that they are still there but obscured behind the colour washes.”
“When creating work in the studio I’m not always sure what the next stage will be. Sometimes I’ll stop mid-way on a canvas if I feel it’s got a bit stuck. Sometimes I’ll make some sketches or I might cut out some collage elements, these paper painted coloured shapes can be temporarily attached to the painting which can help me make decisions about how to resolve the composition and pictorial harmony of each painting. However, if I’m in the flow I’m not even exactly sure what I’m doing, but I know something is happening and then it’s quite a fluid process.”
‘Cirrus Stone’ – acrylic and ilmenite on canvas 150x120cm
Surridge’s work is an impactful dialogue between the surroundings of nature, shape and colour. Senses are channeled and there is a poetic essence of a moment in space and time.