If you had wandered down Portobello Road between lockdowns last summer, you might have spotted a somewhat gangling landscape artist with an easel and brushes, standing like an island in the stream of passers-by, the west London flâneurs getting back to their normal economic and social life in the summer sun offering a lively subject against the backdrop of colourful Notting Hill.
We have all experienced something of what true isolation feels like at different moments over these last two years, and it’s true that many artists have always led a solitary existence ideally adapted, you might suppose, to life in these times. Although I do work on my own a lot, I have never been insular, in fact I depend upon engagement with the immediate world around me for inspiration, and not least to keep the wolf from the door. My last exhibition at Panter & Hall in May 2020 never made it onto the walls, and there was to be no private view, so the end of ‘distancing’ right now comes as a huge relief. This catalogue of work, produced more or less entirely in Covid times, is inspired by islands of different kinds, hence the title of the show; but of course in many ways the paintings themselves are my ‘islands of light’ in that they represent moments of happiness which have sustained me during hard times and which I hope will give other people flashes of joy.
Real islands do also feature in this collection, notably Barbados, where I enjoyed a revitalising trip earlier this year. As ever, is it the excitement of painting light that urges me on, especially light on water, and the ocean breaking on the Caribbean shores seemed suggestive of other journeys, other worlds and possibilities. Venice, Skye, and more generally the British Isles, are all represented here. We Brits are already islanders, rarely more aware than now of the twin challenges of being independent as well as outward-looking. Solitude of course need not be a sentence to be endured; it can be a deliberate retreat, a pause to regain strength, a moment of reflection. In difficult times I have found solace in nature, both on Exmoor and other trips around the UK, and painting in London’s parks, which are like island oases of green in the big city.
I hope that my pleasure in painting those patches of sunshine playing on the water, or broken into archipelagos by the summer trees, will communicate itself to you, and give you what we probably all need just now, a bit of a lift, and a reminder that–hopefully– not everything is wrong with the world.
- Luke Martineau
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