An interview with Marissa Mardon

Marissa Mardon is a fine artist and the creator behind the exhibition Landing at Dawn, which will be on show throughout May and June. On the day she installed Landing at Dawn, Ideas Test invited Marissa to talk a little bit more about her new work.

Could you talk a little bit about the process you went through to create this artwork? Did you do any research into the Falklands War? How did the relationship work with Rob Mason, who commissioned the painting?

Marissa Mardon: After seeing some of my artwork on show last year, Rob was drawn to a particular painting I had created for the Royal Engineers Museum, which depicted a group of WW1 sappers (Royal Engineers) out in the field.  Their image was spliced with an army barrage map indicating where the bombs would be dropped throughout the landscape. In the crossing of those two images I experimented with the camouflaging of the figures into the map, echoing the camouflage work the sappers would have been doing in their work.

'Sappers in the Field' 2015 Oil on Canvas
‘Sappers in the Field’ 2015 Oil on Canvas. Image Credit: Marissa Mardon

After seeing this painting, Rob thought I’d be the right artist to tackle the painting of his picture depicting himself and his colleagues landing in San Carlos of the Falkland Islands in 1982. I didn’t do any research as such apart from reading a little about the war, but mostly gained my information from chatting to Rob about his experiences and his memories of that day in particular.

Why do you think your artistic practice lends itself so well to depicting and documenting real moments in time?

Marissa: I can paint in lots of different ways but am constantly drawn to a reasonably photographic method of painting. That way of working lends itself to using historical images and creating a record of a particular snapshot in time.  I have worked with historical images a few times whether it was representing a Victorian era Rochester or studying the early images of Victorian stereoscopic nudes.


Did you have to consider anything different or new in creating this work, in comparison to any of your former artworks?

Marissa: I’ve worked with old photographs and the subject of war before, so it wasn’t anything new as such, it was just deciding on how to interpret this particular image and do it and Rob’s memory of the day justice. The content and composition was mostly taken from the photograph, however I did use some artistic license with some of the details here and there in order to make the painting work as a whole.  Rob also gave me a colour image that had been taken just a few minutes after to see just how muddy it was, so I utilised that to inject some elements of colour throughout the whole painting.

Was there a sense of extra pressure in creating a piece of work that is so intimately entwined with someone’s story and identity?

Marissa: There was a bit of pressure. Originally Rob said ‘No rush, you can take as long as you like’, and then I decided I would put it in this show, so I’d given myself the pressure of a deadline.  Additionally, five of the soldiers in the image (Rob and four of his colleagues) will see the painting – some actually saw it via photos whilst I was creating it – therefore I had the added pressure of getting the likenesses right and hoping they liked it too. One of the soldiers in particular, you can see in the time lapse video I created, I painted his face in and out numerous times over a whole week until I was happy with the likeness.  Having some constructive criticism from Rob on some of the details of the guns and equipment was also useful as I wanted it to look right.

Did you have to consider your own relationship with the image and the events, or was it purely about depicting that moment in time, and Rob’s experience?

Marissa: My relationship with the image was purely: ‘how do I put this image onto canvas taking into account everything Rob had told me about how he felt on the day?’.  It was a very calm and misty scene. He had been told to be ready for battle when getting of the boat, yet when they all arrived the enemy was nowhere to be seen, so they had to set about digging trenches in very muddy conditions.  According to Rob, this was a bit of an anti-climax, although he did say there was a great sense camaraderie and that they even found a lot of humour in their situation. You can hear more of Rob’s stories in an interview I did with him which will be available to watch soon.

Landing at Dawn will be at No.34 until June 29, 2018. Feel free to pop into No.34 during opening hours to visit Marissa’s exhibition. You may also recognise Marissa from the Messy Art for Babies events she has run in local community venues across Swale and Medway.