Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Martin Mobbs - A Solitary Artist

I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Martin Mobbs. We hung out, drank coffee, and got into a long, art talk. After which, Martin invited me back to his place, in the countryside near the village of Ivanhoe, in Ontario.

Martin came into painting later in life. He is 60 years old.  When he reflects back, he says that he had 40 years of preparation.

Martin was born in England and he emigrated to Canada, as a fifteen year old boy with his family.  There was a degree of transience and disconnect in his early years. Different schools, different towns, and a change of countries.

He found his way into the Ontario College of Art but didn't connect with it. He admits to hanging out in the cafeteria a lot and not taking the experience as seriously as he might have.  He left without graduating.

Martin’s a solitary guy.  He drove a big rig and roamed the highways of Canada and the States carrying produce from city to city.   He developed a strong visual memory and an appreciation of landscape which he has never forgotten.

His life journey took him into the film industry where he spent 30 years as a scenic artist.  These were vital years in his development when he acquired a lot of technical skill.

Martin tells of having to paint coloured set designs and having to match colours without the benefit of a computer. He developed such a strong acumen for colour that he could mix and match paints with flawless precision. He also developed a firm base of technical knowledge which he can draw from in his present painting experience.

When I walked into Martin's studio I was stunned by the large, well constructed, easels which he had built himself, and by the spaciousness, order and precision of his workplace - all of which is replicated in his art.

I came to appreciate and understand a lot about Martin in the time we spent together.  When I walked around his beautiful home in the country setting, and saw the old cedar tree which grew out of the rocks in his yard, and the bridge and stream which can be seen from his patio I felt that I was looking into his inner soul. The serenity and peace of the summer evening seemed  to complete itself in this solitary man with his beautiful inner landscape.

Martin bought a ranch near Osoyoos, BC while working in the film business and he commuted from there into Vancouver.  He raised horses and developed a love for their beauty and character.

He tells of the time after he returned to the east of driving  back to the west, to reexamine the visual image he had of horses running against a western background with the setting sun, and dust and light behind them.  It had to be just right. It had to be photographed and captured in his memory so it could be reborn on canvas.  Sadly, Martin came to realize that life doesn't necessarily work the way we want it to.  "It rained every day...all the way out and I never got to see the scene I searched for."

While Martin is new to painting – a paint brush is comfortable and at home in his hand. "I paint with sign painter brushes. They hold a lot of paint and I can get a lot done with them,and I like using straight cut brushes, for I can turn them sideways and draw nice straight lines without running out of paint."

Although he has only painted for 3 years on canvas,  his life training provided him with a valuable apprenticeship  The first equine painting that he sold, confirmed for him that he was on the right track and he never looked back. He knew where life was taking him.

When I experienced the openness of Martin's studio and walked around his home I saw a certain Spartan beauty in it.

When I looked into the countryside around his home,I thought of him driving across the open prairies and of him watching his horses running on his ranch.  He paints just as he lives his life - on a big canvas.

The phone rang as we talked and Martin didn't connect to it: "Let it ring." Martin was focusing on details and the telephone was an outside intrusion  from him searching for a thought or a memory from within his inner landscape.

Look long and deep into one of his landscapes, and you will see an artist who paints with precision and detail.  Look at the upright painted trees into his forest and you will see delicately and beautifully wrought bark with colours which are so exact and  textures which are so perfectly exacted that if you could easily imagine yourself stepping into his painting and running your hands over the trunks and in so doing you would be unable to separate the dimensions of art from reality.

When Martin and I talked, I began to wonder what art is all about. Whhen I probed, I couldn't find the answer.  When I asked him about intuition, imagination, and creativity, he simply said....."Its within you.....either you have it or you don't".  Its all in the way you see life.”

 I was confused. I showed him my most recent painting where I painted with flow and feeling and with gobs of thick paint. "We all paint different, there's no right or wrong," he said simply.

I told him of sharing a teacher learning experience with a friend and student, and he admitted that he had never been taught how to paint. He just painted as he painted. There was no accumulated baggage. Martin literally walked into painting with a fresh intellectual canvas.  There was no hand of another teacher and no visual memory of another artists work overwhelming his imagination.  The only guidance he has is his years as a scenict artist somewhere beyond the camera's lens.

When Martin is finished, he drops his brush into the water (he paints in acrylics) and he leaves it for two days.If  he cannot see any needed corrections, he signs it off and sprays lacquer fixative over it, and the job's done.  And with that the truck driver turns on the ignition, and heads out for the next city.

When I look into Martin's works I see the craftsman artist.   I see the artist for whom the tools of the craft are critical.  "The old masters drew preparatory sketches and gridded"  Martin uses photographs, a printer, acetate sheets and cast images. When I commented to him on me gobbing paint onto canvas to release my mystical and undefinable inner torments he shrugged,  "There's no single, correct way of doing it."

In the end,.when you look into the flow of rushing water around the rocks on the canvas in his studio, there is a subtle magic of colour there where the hand of a master transcends the mechanics of picture construction.  When you look at light bouncing off the sweaty body  of his horses you can see beneath the surface of the coat and feel its inner energy and muscular tension. In the end, you see sheer, poetic, beauty.

There comes a point where craft and art, magic and soul become one.  Its in the finished product.  Martin likes the appreciation he receives. He wants to be recognized, but doesn’t every painter? In his three short years of painting (or were they decades)  he was juried into the McMichael Volunteer Show.

Like many artists he struggles with the public side of it all.  He is caught in the crosshairs of conflicting desires. He loves painting in his studio which looks out onto the woods, but he wants his paintings to sell for thefinancial return he feels they deserve. On the other hand, he struggles to turn his paintings over to galleries because he likes them around and he knows that once he sells them off, they're gone.

Martin has no regrets about not having painted for a lifetime.  He’s packed more into three short years then some artists do in  thirty.  There are some  who take a lifetime to build a name and reputation. I have the feeling that Martin Mobbs is an artist who won’t take long to receive the recognition he richly deserves.

If you wish to see Martin's works, please click here.

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