Leslie Marr b. 1922

Provenance

Artist's Collection 

Exhibitions

1964, London, The London Group Annual Exhibition
2006, London, Piano Nobile, Leslie Marr: Into the 21st Century
2007, Newcastle, Northumbria University Gallery, Leslie Marr Retrospective, no.5
2012, London, Piano Nobile, Leslie Marr at 90


Painted early in 1963, around the time of his exhibition at the Drian Galleries, this self-portrait shows the mature artist recently returned to full-time painting but with his youthfulsense of purpose undiminished. During its production, Marr may well have had in mindhis earlier Self-Portrait, 1946, made shortly after beginning lessons with Bomberg. His teacher had praised it, saying ‘it looks as if it has been carved out of granite’. More recently, Philip Vann agreed with this assessment, noting its ‘granite composure, bedrock
determination, but also a certain lightness of spirit’.

The present self-portrait maintains the earlier coruscating level of psychological intensity. Angular brushwork through thick paint sees Marr use his brush as a chisel or modelling knife. He presents himself as tonally indistinct from his environment, built from the same pallor of greenish yellow, separated only by trench-like marks more akin to lines of geometric calculation than representations of bodily curves. As the artist struggles towards the construction of an architectural sense of self, one eye confronts the viewer – a dark focal point of the image. The other is hidden in shade which also sets the mouth at an unnatural slant. While in the earlier work Vann observed a lightness of spirit, here Marr’s adamantine focus incompletely masks a profound vulnerability.

Through its disregard for academic observational convention, this self-portrait is rooted in Marr’s formative years with Bomberg. Particular similarities exist with the shadowed, doleful gaze of Talmudist (1953, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester), painted shortly before Bomberg left for Ronda. In ‘Fragment of an Autobiography’ Marr remembers an argument when Bomberg questioned the authorship of one of his works. When asked who painted it Marr affirmed, ‘I did, of course.’ Bomberg replied, ‘No you did not. I did. I got inside you and painted it’. This self-portrait’s division of Marr through light and dark, day and night, self and other, resonates with this anecdote as he questions the different selves at play beneath his confident exterior, and guiding his hand. But when set in contrast to Bomberg’s self-portraiture, it is apparent that by 1963 Marr had demonstrably wrested from his teacher the agency necessary to establish his own powerful formal language reflective of his individual artistic vision.