Marise Maas’s favourite time of the day is not actually during the day at all – it’s after midnight. When everyone is tucked-up in bed, thoughts and emotions that are mostly kept at bay during busy daylight hours slowly creep into the artist’s awareness. Maas relishes the quiet of night, when the veil of everyday consciousness begins to slip and we can catch a glimpse of a different, deeper reality. It’s at this time that the artist feels at her most productive. This exhibition, Sleepless, is not a meditation on insomnia, rather Maas’s homage to the quiet hours of the deep dark night that gives her art the space and silence to grow.
The subjects of Maas’s often large-scale paintings are varied. While she depicts recognisable objects, her work seems more closely aligned to abstract modes of painting rather than realism or representational art. Maas’s paintings are at times irrational and playful – a cavalcade of curious moments invented to express unspoken thoughts, sentiments, and relationships that occur in amongst the mundane detritus that fills our waking world.
Horses are a frequent motif, painted in the artist’s simplified, naïve style. In many ways they serve as a replacement for people, inhabiting her pictures with an ambiguous presence. Maas’s horses act like totemic figures within a personal universe that the artist keeps largely anonymous, prompting the viewer to make their own associations and ensuring that any subtle cues to narrative content remains open to interpretation.
In this body of work Maas’s equine figures are often depicted wearing rigid bridles, bits, reigns, saddles, with the occasional coat or fancy circus headpiece also appearing. Within the open space of her canvases where the inclusion and placement of each individual element is well considered, these objects become an important factor in the overall design of her compositions. They also evoke the sensation of control and constraint, especially in works such as Getting used to it, where a saddle hovers over the back of a bridled horse that seems to bristle in anticipation.
Yet while emotive connotations exist in this body of work, Maas pays greatest attention to the formal concerns of art making – in particular composition, line, shape and texture. Here she takes her cues from abstract art, embracing textured surface-qualities and flat two-dimensional space by painting large fields of monochrome colour. Often cool, neutral tones of grey and black are contrasted with bolts of turquoise, red or orange as the artist keeps her palette restricted and minimal. This allows the viewers’ focus to remain on the artist’s rich and variegated spectrum of mark-making.
Maas works over broad areas of colour with dry, textured linear marks applied with oil sticks, which are essentially compressed and hardened oil paints than can be wielded like a pastel or piece of charcoal. This sets up a sense of space between the layers, where her loose, expressive line-work sits upon the painterly fields underneath. The placement of these floating lines and colour fields are guided more by intuition than any particular rules of art-making.
There is a static quality to Maas’s forms. The brevity and gestural richness of her technique make these paintings compelling to view, in a similar way that rock art from ancient cultures resonates with the strength and purity of its simplified pictorial language. Yet above all Maas’s work is grounded in contemporary experience, and those quiet ruminations that emerge when the clamour of the day subsides.
Essay by Marguerite Brown, MA ArtCur, 2017