n 1997 Mark Surridge moved from London and set up his house and studio in the depths of the Cornish countryside. Eight years on he has established himself as part of an exciting new generation of artists working and exhibiting within the region. He has been elected a member of the Newlyn Society of Artists and regularly chosen as ‘Critic’s Choice’ at its shows. Yet the ramifications of that move endure and continue to provide the impetus for his work.
Eschewing the label ‘landscape painter’ (which he is not), the landscape, nonetheless, is the starting point for all his work. That journey, which began so many years ago from Paddington station, with its snapshot, bite-size chunks of countryside viewed through train windows continues, and as Surridge explores increasingly remote areas – be it by bike or car or on foot – so the initial enthusiasms have become tempered and refined, his responses more subtle and less to the obvious physicality of the landscape and more to the indefinable ‘spirit of place’ so often referred to by writers and poets.
Perhaps this shift is almost inevitable in a landscape such as Cornwall’s which changes almost hourly with the weather and bears the often little understood signs and scars of millennia of human existence. But Surridge is not one to fall prey to easy mysticism; he is a thinking man, acutely self aware and questioning in his responses. And it is in his paintings that this dialogue is manifest. Marks made initially are obfuscated; colours mutate; paint, once applied may be stripped away to reveal previous layers; surface texture added by the addition of sand or sawdust; details created by streaks of coal black carborundum. The process is one of question and answer, change and transformation.
As part of his studio practice Surridge will often work on several paintings simultaneously. In this series he experiments with bringing together two contrasting canvases to create one bipartite image, a new departure that stems from his work with collage. Thus in a piece like ‘Dual Calm’ or ‘Double Lament’ an intensely worked and figured surface abuts and is balanced by one that, save for its subtle textural qualities and sometime shadowy notation, is a comparatively unbroken field, “a quiet zone to balance the active” as Surridge puts it. Whether he continues to work in this way is yet to be seen, but for the present it serves a purpose and references this work as a point in a continuum.
Take time to absorb these paintings, there is a depth and veracity to them that does not reveal itself to the cursory glance. The relationship between shapes, textures, line and colour is more than just an exploration of abstracted landscape – it is also an inner, meditative journey. When Kandinsky voiced his worries about moving towards total abstraction it was because he feared that ‘without the necessary “spiritual qualities” such work could end in nerveless decoration’ – there are no such worries here.
I have been fortunate enough to watch Surridge’s work develop over time and look forward with real pleasure to seeing these latest paintings exhibited.