Leslie Marr b. 1922


The Artist
Piano Nobile, 2006 
Private Collection, UK


1963, London, Drian Galleries, Leslie Marr, Feb. - March 1963
1964, London, Drian Galleries, Drian Artists Annual Exhibition, Jan. 1964
2006, London, Piano Nobile, Leslie Marr: Into the 21st Century, 21 Sept. - 14 Oct. 2006, cat. no. 1
2017, London, Waterhouse & Dodd, Beyond Borough, 9 May - 2 June 2017
Following the acrimonious disintegration of the Borough Group in 1950, Marr summarily abandoned painting. After a period spent racing his Formula 1 Connaught across the globe, he looked for further inspiration as a photographer and film-maker from 1956. However, with Bomberg’s death in 1957, he began to take up his brushes again. The trip to Spain with Lilian reignited his interest, returning him to the charcoal techniques he had learned at the Borough Polytechnic. Following a successful one-man show at the Everyman Gallery in Hampstead in 1959, Marr consummated his reinvigorated dedication to painting in 1961 with a major expedition to New Zealand. He had visited once before when racing the Grand Prix in 1955. Now, he journeyed alone with the express intention of completing significant new work. Lake McKerrow, New Zealand was completed during Marr’s two-week stay on an uninhabited island at the southern tip of the lake. He recalled how an amphibious plane dropped him and his equipment off in this remote but beautiful location on the country’s South Island near to Milford Sound. The lake itself is discernible only on the left margin of the image; Marr concerns himself primarily with the sweeping, angular blocks of landscape and their relation to the furious energy of a cloudy sky. Again, he adopts an elevated view from which to wrestle with the vista. The evident enthusiasm and strain in the brushwork made a memorable impression upon Charles Spencer when he saw Marr’s New Zealand works exhibited at the Drian Galleries in 1963: ‘Here is that understanding of mass and volume, the bold, vigorous line […] it is not just a matter of good technique, or influence. Leslie Marr knows how to concentrate on a landscape, not in order to undertake some meaningless recreation, but to distil the experience of it through his mind, eye and hand. It is a Cézannesque quest […] painted in long, vigorous, slashes of colour, full of nervous urgency, almost hysterical’.

One of the largest canvases exhibited at the Drian show, Lake McKerrow is a monumental painting that represents the culmination of Marr’s effort to master and individualise the approach to landscape he had learned from Bomberg. The distance achieved from Borough by his disparate employment through the fifties helped, but his teacher after all, had emphasised the importance of natural rather than mechanistic structures. Marr captures this in Lake McKerrow, doing justice to Bomberg’s description of ‘the spirit in the mass’ as being closely associated to ‘the seasons, the mists, the Tides & Ocean swell’. With its delicate green and mauve tonalities encapsulating New Zealand’s blustery weather and shifting light, Lake McKerrow shows Marr as a seer of the swelling natural forces for which Bomberg had hunted. It epitomises what Richard Cork has described as a landscape of a ‘living, changing dynamism rather than a static entity’.