‘Later, over coffee, Pablo said, “I want to show you my latest, Gert,” and brought out the famous painting, Figure Seated in Wicker Chair. At the same moment, all-done-in from having tested the recipe of the hashish fudge yet again, Alice lurched into the room.’
Instant Lives & More by Howard Moss
Arranged literally as a treasure hunt amongst the fine prints on offer at London’s wonderful vintage print store Pure & Applied, 169 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UW, Ruth Marten’s elegantly lubricious work is a joyful encounter. Using 17th-19th century prints from the flea markets of NYC as starting points, Marten looks for a hidden narrative and draws it out with super-subtle collaging, rearrangement, the finest hand with pen and ink and a lightness of touch that corresponds to John Heartfield’s proclaimed “tiny spot of colour” needed to turn a work into “art of a special kind”1
Twins, 2009, Ink, watercolour and collage on vintage print, 49.5 x 40.6 cm
Evidently the title of the show hints at the nature of the delights within. A peek into the closet may reveal a misplaced nose or some toes, hair may overflow, yet sparkling, ribald laughter may be heard in the next room… Whilst there is kinship to the collages/frottages of Max Ernst, Marten’s work crackles with more pleasure, charm and sauce than his violence and darkness. Indeed Marten’s sold-out monograph Histoire un-Naturelle (Isis Editions, 2009) is a playful boot up the backside to Ernst’s Histoire Naturelle (Galerie Jeanne Boucher, 1926 – which was also a riff on the Comte de Buffon’s thirty six volumes of Histoire Naturelle, France 1749–1788).
Neither random nor accidental, Marten’s juxtapositions are closer to a love affair between a sewing machine and an umbrella than a chance encounter and although Marten’s leprous friends look quite reasonably distressed by their elaborate blossoms then there is a humour to their rendering that this phantasia (Greek – ‘making visible’) abounds in. ‘Rococo’ (2012) seems to me to be the more intriguing and generous cousin to either the shell-headed vamp in Hugnet’s ‘Fantasy’ (1937) or any of Linder Sterling’s iron/stereo/kettle-head women, and ‘Ecstasy’ (2012) is pure radiant pleasure in hirsuteness, a subject for which Marten has a rep. Of course drawing is magic, and there is so much fantasy and sleight of hand to enjoy here that we can lose ourselves for a while.
The venue on Bermondsey Street is apt. There was a leper hospice – or Lazar House – close by in the 13th century and Pure & Applied has long been a good place to find a vintage engraving of a neck goitre, should you need one. Positioned directly opposite White Cube’s wonderful new museum-grade space and with plenty of fine food close by (including Zucca – ***** Time Out), A Treasure Hunt In A Lazar House at Pure & Applied is a delight.
Ecstasy 2012, ink on vintage print 15.5 x 10cm
Pure & Applied 169 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3UW.