We have been following Martyn’s work for a couple of years now, first seeing his collage pieces at an exhibition at PS Mirabel. We now see more of his watercolour paintings, and he is busy with community projects too! Here we chat to Martyn about his work and all the ways he contributes to Manchester’s art scene.
Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself and your art to the Cotton On Readers.
Martin Lucas: ‘I’m an artist and curator, living in Greater Manchester for over 20 years. Since graduating in Fine Art a long time ago, I have pursued what we now call a ‘portfolio career’ – juggling exhibitions and participatory projects; paid employment and studio work. I managed the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh for ten years and currently programme exhibitions for West Yorkshire Print Workshop in Huddersfield. Over the last several years I have had more studio time (at Cross Street Arts in Wigan) and returned to one of my first loves – watercolour landscapes. ‘Memories of a Mountain’ can currently be seen in the New Light Prize Exhibition in Newcastle.’
COM: Your watercolour paintings come from memories of landscapes, are there any landscapes that you are the most fond of?
ML: ‘What I aim for in the paintings is less a representation of a single view and more an accumulation of memories of looking, of being there or travelling through, from source materials that might include sketchbook studies, photographs and images in my own mind/memory. A pictorial equivalent of visual sensation. The places I most frequently ‘re-visit’ in this way are the Scottish Highlands and the journey over the Pennines on the M62.’
COM: We loved the piece you submitted for the Cotton On MCR Exhibition, ‘Bealach Na Ba’, what landscape inspired that artwork? Is there a story behind it?
ML: ‘Bealach Na Ba (Gaelic for Pass of the Cattle) is a winding single track road over the mountains to Applecross in Wester Ross. I’ve been there a few times, and the drive over the top is spectacular. Sometimes you can’t see the summit because of the clouds which adds to the feeling of sublime. The journeys stay with you.’
COM: As well as watercolours, you use a lot of mixed media to create colourful collages, what is your preferred media to use?
ML: ‘When a painting is ‘on hold’, then I might switch to collage, which essentially involves working with found images – quite often a vintage postcard, cut up paintings and colour swatches. The postcards contain memories in a particular way; either from my own visits to places and bought by me as a child or collected as an adult of places that I remember. There is a conversation between the two techniques, and one informs the other. Both involve a slow process. The small collages may appear simple but there can be lots of fiddling about before the image feels right. The large watercolours involve many layers, and periods of reflection, thinking, as the picture builds over time. I guess what I strive for in the watercolours is a more prolonged looking for the viewer, inviting the eye to move around the image, perceiving the fluctuations in tone, light, colour. A painting which tells the story of its own making, in which visual pleasure and engaging the imagination are important.’
COM: What is a favourite piece that you’ve created and why?
ML: ‘One of the most rewarding projects is a book I made years’ ago in London with an adult with learning disabilities. During visits to art galleries and museums we would draw in a small sketchbook, both on the same page. The artists’ book ‘Dialogue’ emerged from these visual conversations which took place over several years. In small ways, it was life changing for both of us.’
COM: What artists have inspired you/are your favourite at the moment?
ML: ‘I’ve recently read an excellent book on Cezanne’s drawings and watercolours by Christopher Lloyd, which has made me look at him again. In our house, a beautiful small painting by Liverpool artist Jason Thompson I purchased through the Artist Support Pledge brings much joy.’
COM: You deliver lots of community and educational driven activities, are there any upcoming projects prepared for post-lockdown?
ML: ‘Yes! Finally, we will be able to launch the ‘Wall of Fame’ in Leigh at the end of the month. This is a mural I have developed with Leigh Neighbours Project which celebrates people from Leigh who have achieved recognition in their fields of art, music, literature, science and public service. Local children and young people have contributed some wonderful drawings which take the form of fourteen digitally printed metal plaques.’
COM: What are your thoughts on Manchester’s art scene?
ML: ‘There is a thriving and diverse range of people, activities and spaces connected with the art scene, not just in the city centre, but across the GM region. We have world class art institutions and fascinating smaller regional galleries. High profile established artists are working here and those just emerging from art school. There is a wealth of studios and artist-run spaces, socially engaged organisations, plus a sprinkling of commercial galleries. It’s never easy making a living, but there is a real buzz of commitment and creativity running throughout.’
COM: Outside of art, do you have any other hobbies/interests?
ML: ‘I do, such as walking or watching good telly, but it seems I am never really ‘off duty’.’
COM: If you could live in a piece of artwork, what would it be and why?
ML: ‘I’d be happy in a James Turrell ‘skyspace’ I think; perhaps Roden Crater. Such an immersive physical and cerebral experience of light, time and space.’