Marcus Nelson: 3’s a Crowd

Marcus Nelson

Artwork’s Title: 3’s a Crowd

Materials Used: Acrylic paint on cotton canvas

Studio Based: The Bomb Factory, North London

Marcus Nelson, 3’s a crowd, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

I often describe my process as being like a battle between me and the painting. When I start I may have a rough idea of what I want the final outcome to look like, but the image will most likely change several times from when I start the piece to when I finish it. During this process my emotions can flip drastically between joy and despair, as I feel I am either finding or losing the outcome I want. I normally have a photo that I use as a reference but this is just a springboard for my own interpretation.  As I slowly close in on the final image, I will often paint over areas or even the whole thing if I’m not happy with it. An important aspect of the work is the texture and gesture in the paint. I need to be physically engaged; I often dance and move around a lot in the studio.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Dark, honest, human.

Would you use another three different words to describe the “3’s a Crowdpainting?

It would be hard to think of another three words specifically, but the other title I had in mind for this piece was “Troglodyte”. The word can refer to someone being deliberately ignorant and I thought that the awkwardness of the figures echoed this somehow.

How did you come up with this painting idea? Is there any story behind this painting?

So this piece is part of a much larger series that I was working on whilst in residence at The Fores Project. Over lockdown I became really interested in dance as a form of physical expression. The ballet “Swan Lake” particularly took my interest because of the way it explores the connection between the mind and body. I decided that on the residency, I would re- imagine this story, using archival footage from previous performances as inspiration for the compositions. I wanted to speak to universal fears and emotions we all share, using the body as a tool to explore the human condition. The inter-linking of the limbs makes reference to the different strands of personality that we have within us, all separate and yet connected inside one individual brain.

What colour is used the most in this painting?

For the figures I used a gorgeous light magenta mixed in with in with a cobalt blue for the darker areas. There is a strong contrast between the figures and the background but they are tied together visually because this blue is used in both areas.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

In my mind there are two different ways that you could view my work- with perhaps slightly different outcomes. On the one hand I always appreciate the white cube space because of its simplicity, when there are minimal visual distractions you really get to feel the impact of the painting. On the other hand, I love it when my work can be enjoyed by people in their own homes. I think when you live with art it is a much slower process of interacting with it. You may notice a small detail you didn’t the previous day, or perhaps over time the piece may take on an entirely different personal meaning.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Recently I’ve been looking a lot at Francisco Goya’s black paintings, particularly for the atmosphere they create. There is an incredible bleakness and mysticism in these works that is unparalleled. Ive also recently been looking at the work of Isadora Duncan, an American dancer who performed to great acclaim throughout Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I have a pile of books and images in my studio that I often delve into for inspiration.

How do you know when this painting was finished?

Whenever I think a painting is finished I always put it away and work on something else for a few days. When you are engaged in something for a long time end your eyes deceive you into overlooking imperfections. Whenever I come back to the painting again I usually know it is finished when there is a balance and harmony within the image- everything ties together. My biggest problem is overworking my paintings so I am always trying to stop at the right time.

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

Sometimes things can look a little bit chaotic. I usually try to start and finish every day with the space looking clean and ordered. It generally depends on how well things are going; if I’m on a roll then everything is scattered all over the place. You will always find photocopies from books or references stuck around the walls of the studio.

Is there any particular message that you wish your viewers can take from this painting?

My pieces always have meanings that are personal to me but I try not to share them. I love it when each person has a different interpretation of the work. If anything I just want people to see part of themselves in the images.

What does your mum think about your art?

I’m lucky that I come from a creative family so I have always had amazing support from my Mum and everyone else when it came to me pursuing Art as a career. I think they all realised pretty quickly that I’m useless at doing anything else! Sometimes they struggle with the dark nature of my work but they understand that it’s my way of getting things off my chest.

Which exhibition did you visit last?

Every Saturday or Sunday I usually try to do a gallery binge. Last weekend I saw Max Rumbol and Peter Frederiksen at Union Gallery. They are two of my favourite artists so it was great to see their work in the flesh for the first time- both lovely blokes too.

Which are your plans for the near future?

As I write this I am just about to move into a new studio space the Bomb Factory Art Foundation in North London. I’m very excited to get started on some new work there.

*Born in 1997 in Oxford, UK, Nelson lives and works in London. He studies Fine Arts at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London

Additional Paintings

Marcus Nelson, Ring a ring a roses, 2020, 90 x 60 cm, acrylic on canvas
Marcus Nelson, If you ride like lightning you’ll crash like thunder, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm
Marcus Nelson, The wheel of fortune, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm


All images are courtesy of the artist

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