India Mark lists her colours with clarity and restraint – ultramarine, burnt umber, cadmium orange, burnt siena. With this handful of hues she bring to her still life work a gentle palette of muted purples, pinks and blues against the more vivid qualities of fruit. Casa della frutta presents ten offerings, five compositions of apple and cup, and five of orange and cup. Her aim in this sequence is to refine, diminish distractions, quiet the mind and attend to the phenomenon of the arrangement.
India Mark was altered by her recent visit to Italy. Through this travel, she found sensibilities that aligned with her own. She discovered that the buildings in Catania, Sicily have been painted for centuries with a mix of ash from Mount Etna that lends everything a softened colouration. The titanium white that mutes her palette has a similar effect, bringing a tinted whitewash to vivid hues. Her title clearly suggests ‘home’ and Mark’s paintings evoke intimacy and homeliness through their subject, scale and delicacy. Casa della frutta also gives a nod to the small fruit shops she found in Italy and her visit to Casa di Morandi in Bologna, the family home and studio of the great 20th century painter of still life, Giorgio Morandi.
To sustain the stability that allows for almost imperceptible shifts in composition, India Mark has constructed a diorama. It is a clean white backing, a slate ground with clip-on lights that holds the still life. The artist then sits in close relation to this (in the largest studio she has ever had) to paint. The skin of the fruit, the porcelain edge and the ground plane all vibrate within their own world of spatial relationships. The engagement between the artist, subject and work is wonderfully contained here. Philosopher Merleau-Ponty contemplated painting as such:
“The distance from me to the object is not a size which increases or decreases, but a tension which fluctuates around a norm … the brittleness, hardness, transparency, and crystal ring of a glass all translate a single manner of being … We understand the thing as we understand a new kind of behaviour, not, that is, through any intellectual operation … but by taking up on our own account the mode of existence (suggested) before us.”1
Looking further at Casa della frutta, there are metaphors between music and art. We might think of variations on a theme, dynamics or composition, subtle oscillations across objects, light and surfaces. I viewed these pieces as they were about to be framed and each one unstacked as a revelation, a piece of stunning contemplative research into quietly fluctuating qualities of objecthood.
1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith with revisions by Forrest Williams (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1974), 302.