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MARTIN MALONEY | THE COLOURFUL STORYTELLER
September 22nd 2017
This week Eyestorm re-introduces London-born artist Martin Maloney, a contemporary painter who established his career in the early 1990s, and is now renowned as one of the key figures of emerging British Art of that time.
by Tessa Yee
ARTIST RE-VISITED
Martin Maloney’s unique artworks combine keen observation with a free and honest style of painting. Uninhibited by technical draughtsmanship, his works have a visual ‘pop’ through his bold use of colour, flat layering and thick paint application. Maloney’s work has been somewhat controversially described as being child-like, naïve, or even crude. His simplistic style of painting can often mean that the hidden complexities in his work - including his powers of observation, his humorous reflections on society, and his deeper references to art history - can be inadvertently overlooked.

Preoccupied by his social surroundings, Maloney is most well known for his observational paintings of urban and suburban life and landscape. Steering clear of traditional painting techniques and instead allowing his imagination and instincts to guide his hand, Maloney plasters thick excessive layers in fast motions onto his canvas, generally working in situ or from memory. Without any detailed studies, Maloney’s spontaneous approach naturally simplifies the subject of his paintings, breaking down scenes to more abstract interpretations that have a charming innocence to their observation.

However, while Martin Maloney’s paintings may simplify a scene, they are far from simple paintings. His bold colour palette and the wild gestural energy of his brushstrokes echo the disharmony of the mass, and strife of the real world. In contrast to this, his simplified painting style reflects the trivial, the banal, and the everyday nature of his observations. There is a strong sense of story telling in the paintings, though Maloney gives us just enough detail to start the story, leaving the viewers to fill in the details and encouraging creative interpretations of each scene.

Maloney’s technique is also far from accidental or without thought. While he avoids the traditions of figurative painting that are normally guided by close study, perspective, and preparative drawings, Maloney somewhat surprisingly describes his work as influenced by the great paintings of the past. Uniquely, he adapts traditional techniques to his own means, finding the contemporary twist on art historical conventions. His anecdotal scenes could be described as contemporary reworkings of the type of genre painting, still life, and portraits seen in historical paintings by artists such as Poussin, Vermeer, and Watteau.
Martin Maloney

Love Bug , 2001

76(w) x 43(h) cm
29.92(w) x 17.13(h) inches
24 colour screenprint
Edition of 250
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For example, in 'Bloomsbury Square WC1 1989', groups of people gathered in an urban London square, are likened to French eighteenth-century pastoral pictures, which Maloney describes as pictures of people ‘significantly doing nothing’. In Maloney’s interpretation he replaces the rural setting for the urban, and more than just replicating an ordinary scene of every-day life, Maloney comments on the melancholy of ordinary people, highlighting the unremarkable nature of the events taking place.

While perhaps not always an obvious reference at first glance, when one recognises the connection Maloney is making to paintings of the past (and in some cases he will reference them directly such as in ‘Rave - After Poussin’s Triumph of Pan') - the sense of the irony and humour in his works is revealed.

Martin Maloney’s Love Bug released by Eyestorm in 2001, uses the artist’s distinctive bright primary colours, alongside his almost awkward, wonky drawing technique - a typical example of Maloney’s painting style. The figures are broken down to simple representations, and yet there is enough detail to observe a couple in a tight embrace in one car, another kissing while driving theirs, and four unimpressed children in the back of another. There is a simplistic humour to the scene through the actions of the figures, but one can also sense the chaos of the busy urban roads, reflecting the typical experience of waiting at the traffic lights at an inner city junction. As with earlier works, Maloney gives us just enough detail to get a sense of the scene, but allows the viewers the freedom to use their imagination and play out the details of the story in front of them.

While recognising Maloney’s art historical references can certainly add an extra layer of understanding to his works, those who are perhaps not aware of these references, can still appreciate the paintings’ subtle humour. Drawing us in with his bold visual style, Maloney is ultimately a storyteller. His paintings can be a clever, playful and an almost interactive experience for the viewer, as we are encouraged to form our own anecdotal stories guided only by Maloney’s simple but suggestive titles, and limited only by the extent of our own imaginations.

Early support of the artist's work included collectors such as art dealer Anthony d'Offay and Charles Saatchi, who included Maloney in the now legendary exhibition 'Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection' in 1997. You can find Love Bug by Martin Maloney here.
 
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