History remembers the great explorers in their descriptions of what they discovered. Foreign cultures saw their own history through the eyes of the explorers. Mark Thompson explores the drama of Nordic landscapes – a love for the mountains of Iceland and Norway, for the snow, the water and the threatening storms on the horizon.
He reveals to us what we have always observed yet never been aware of.
Seeing Nordic landscapes through the eyes of an English painter is part of a long history of landscape painting. Mark Thompson creates romantic images of them.
The dramatic theme is not as is, but as could have been.
As seen by the explorers, and retold in paintings by numerous artists through history.
The painter J. C. Dahl, who was born in Bergen in 1788 but spent most of his artistic life in Germany (d.1857), has become the icon of the Norwegian romantic tradition. He came home at regular intervals with his sketchbook, but produced his painting upon returning to Germany, with a view from abroad. His romantic but exaggerated images contributed strongly to the independence movement.
With this backdrop we begin a journey of exhibition. First to the soft meadows of Lithuania, more similar to the English countryside than to Icelandic volcanoes or Norwegian waterfalls.
Later to Bergen and Western Norway.

Our purpose is to facilitate meetings between Norwegian and foreign artists, institutions and the public. We have rarely ever been able to combine these two objectives better than with this exhibition of Mark Thompson.
The M. K. Ciurlionis National Museum of Art is becoming increasingly international. Since Lithuania’s regained independence this museum has developed a large international network through exchange of exhibitions. Foundation 3,14 is proud to contribute to fulfilling this purpose.

March 2002
Foundation 3,14



By Martin Gayford

For many people there is, so to speak, a landscape of the heart. Generations of Northern Europeans have found their ideal on the shores of the Mediterranean in a Claudean paradise of golden light and rippling water. But there have also always been those who found their spiritual homeland in the north, among fjords, seals, black rock, ice and snow.
William Morris, the 19th century craftsman, designer and political theorist was one such; he never made the customary artistic pilgrimage to Italy, but instead made the great journey of his life to Iceland. Another contemporary example is the painter Mark Thompson.

Born in the dead flat plain of the Fens in Eastern England – he began as an abstract painter. But eventually, he found that his true preoccupation as a painter was landscape. (There has always been a close connection between landscape painting and abstraction, of course – Mondrian and Kandinsky found their landscapes turning into abstracts, Thompson’s evolved in the opposite direction).

In recent years he has spent a number of months each year travelling – in northern places such as Norway, Finland, Iceland and Alaska. His purpose, he explains is ‘to go out into the landscape - being a sponge, soaking it up.’ The terrain he seeks out is characterised by its remoteness, and emptiness. Not only is it deserted, there is little sign that the hand of man has ever made a mark on it. On returning to his studio, he starts to paint. But his object is not depict a particular place, rather – as he puts it – it is ‘to find a place’. While travelling he makes photographs, drawings and above all written notes of what he sees. But the process of painting begins in a way that suggests an abstract expressionist such as Jackson Pollock rather than a topographical artist. There is, he says, ‘a lot of throwing the paint around, and a lot of pouring’.

Through that physical moving of the pigment, he tries to find the place he is looking for. ‘There’s always a picture inside your head, an internal landscape that you are trying to find an equivalent to in the external world.’ So the result is in part a reconstruction of what he has seen, in part a discovery of the ideal he was searching for.

That method of work – reconstructing landscapes from memory back in the studio – is reminiscent of the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, a master of the past whom Thompson greatly admires. Friedrich was also born in a flat landscape – the Baltic coast, rather than the Fenland – and went on to paint more mountainous regions, in his case the peaks of Eastern Germany. Friedrich also made studies on the spot, but painted his final work in a bare studio with a view only of the sky, closing – it was said – his bodily eye so that he could bring into the light of darkness what he had seen in darkness.

Thompson’s painting is related to the drips and spatter of gestural abstraction, but also to the sublime tradition of landscape painting to which Friedrich and Turner belonged. In that tradition the viewer is confronted by the immensity and emptiness of the world – not by a real place, nor an unreal one either. What Thompson does, he says, is all ‘to do with the filter of memory’. What remains in the memory. Perhaps that is the essence of what has been seen, but also what was being sought out, the landscape of the heart.