Not our necessitated, such with him
Finds no acceptance, nor can find, for how
Can hearts, not free, be tri'd whether they serve
Willing or no, who will but what they must
By Destinie, and can no other choose?’
You won't find much art which references Milton these days, but Maria Marshall's world is - like that of ‘Paradise Lost’ – one of sharp contrasts and elemental battles. For all the surface calm of exacting production, it’s that sense of what lies beneath which gives her films their edge. They’ve often focussed on her own children as a means of presenting the innocence which covers the realities to come with a sheen of beauty and ignorance. In structured loops we see her son Jacob at two, apparently smoking; a boyhood enactment of murderous intent; the smile of Jacob again, who is revealed - as the camera pans out – to be wearing a straightjacket.
Maria Marshall with Bleeding Eye, 2013
Marshall’s paintings, previously shown only in Greece, are cinematic performances which – for all their independent energy – serve here to amplify her themes on an appropriate scale. Three seas and one eye are shown from two substantial ongoing series. Bleeding Eye sets up the viewer viewed, the painting doing to us what we’re meant to do to it – so echoing the viewer boxed at, especially given the titular blood. It triggers the evil eye, surveillance, the all-seeing God, Eve’s discovery of shame. Yet there’s also the meditative and empowering aspect of a mandala.
The sea, of course, takes Matthew out deeper, perhaps dangerously so. Maybe a little more Milton is in order: ‘into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend/ Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while, / Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith/ He had to cross’. The sea can symbolise so much relevant to Marshall’s concerns – immersion, freedom, infinity, mirroring – while on a more formal level her obvious pleasure in sheer liquidity gives the painting a self-reflexive quality, a quality shared with Bleeding Eye: paint flow as flowing water, looked at as looking. The three seas provide contrasts of colour and emotion, which can be read across to the three representations of male stereotypes: cowboy, boxer and surfer.