the journey over to artist Marc Standing’s studio in Chai Wan, I realise what had been puzzling me about his work. There is something so acute, so full of lividity in the rendering of wildlife, butterflies, birds and organic structures in his paintings, that one has a sense of first hand experience just by looking at them. There was, I believed, simply too much information in his work for its subject to be sourced from Internet downloads, no matter how good the quality of the image. I thought that what I was looking at had to have been directly observed, drawn from life, right there in front of him. An abundance of wildlife is hard to come across in Chai Wan...so where is his imagery coming from? This question was answered on my arrival. Along one entire wall of Standing’s studio is a beautifully arranged, if slightly disconcerting, collection of stuffed birds, drawings, portraits, maps and diagrams. It became almost immediately apparent that beneath a calm and softly spoken demeanor, all was not well, he was not ok. He was in the middle of any artist’s worst nightmare. He explained that owing to an oversight on his shipper’s part, relevant fumigation documentation had not been available for inspection at the port of destination. So, the entire consignment of his paintings, due for imminent exhibition (opening night a few days later) was, at this point, detained indefinitely by one of the world’s strictest and most unforgiving customs and excise authorities, Australia.
Terra Aust ralis Incognita
Abandoning the idea of interviewing this man under such punitive circumstances, we agreed to record an informal conversation and see where we went. I turned to the collection on the wall for an opener. “Years of drawing the human skull at art school left me with some ability to recognise the real thing when I see it,” states Standing. “This one is in a glass box, and it is old. The forehead has been rubbed with the sign of the cross so many times that it is actually polished in. I bought it in Portobello Market five years ago from a man who said something about it being from the 17th Century.” I had no idea that it was possible buy human body parts, however old, on the streets of London in this day and age. Out of each eye socket spill plastic yellow daisies, the kind that come with shrink wrapped, styrofoam trays of sushi at a supermarket. Within the walls of the studio, there is also an ice blue, pulsating, illuminated cross, worthy of any Hollywood voodoo clairvoyant’s altar. It could sit equally at home on the dashboard of a truck in Goa. There’s a large stuffed bird, which he had done himself, a Catholic saint, a small, old wooden display case full of dead butterflies and a strange, black fetishistic doll under a glass dome. This is not some psychedelic ‘I spent a million bucks on fairground trash’ meets ‘Day of the Dead’ gawdy attraction. These are things that Standing has made or collected over years; seed pods and dried flower heads, you can’t just go out and buy them. You have to look closely, to see the strangeness at first, it doesn’t just leap out at you. The drawings are monochrome, the twigs, baskets and seed pods their natural colour. And then the work draws you in. Everything is beautiful but weird. It is the association between the objects that the artist suggests by their grouping, that adds to the intrigue, a quality I find very much reflected in his current work. Some are really strange - or at least, very strange for Hong Kong. “I’m not sure how to describe it really,” states the artist.
Published on Apr 17, 2013