Marc Standing’s art is rooted in the natural world, with influences garnered from his travels around the globe. The African artist uses his practice for storytelling, drawing influences from the various places in the world he has been based. With London now his new home, it’s worth reflecting on what’s gone before, how his work developed after stints in Australia and China, and how the London art scene might influence his work in future.
Since leaving Zimbabwe and emigrating to Australia, Marc Standing has had a well-travelled life. Driven by an innate compulsion to paint, his art, like his life, has never stood still. He endeavours to explore tensions felt by a personal search for identity, embodied by complexities felt by a mass consciousness – one which has been left with toxic traces of colonialism.
There is a period when it seems obvious Standing lived in Australia. Although very different to Africa, both have a colonial heritage that must have influenced him. Does he agree? “When I got to Australia I was interested in Aboriginal culture as well as the history of the continent that aligned with my interest in African culture. Aboriginal culture is very secretive, which is understandable. It’s shrouded in magic and secrecy.” His art from this period clearly has markings, colours, and patterns that show how his time in Australia influenced his work.
After moving to Hong Kong his work developed again, a change in his use of colour another example of how his travels have influenced his art. So, how did living in China affect his art, if at all? “The one thing that has had a huge impact on me living in Hong Kong is this magnificent sense of pastel colour,” he confesses. For anyone who has been to China, or Asia more widely, they will recognise how this can impact someone. China is such a colourful place that contradicts much of what you expect from a communist country, with the idea of the Soviet grey a powerful image.
What pre-empted the move from China I wonder? “I felt that being in Hong Kong for seven years was enough,” Marc explains. “I managed to establish myself in the Asian region working with Art Labor in Shanghai. There is no need to be there anymore and London seemed the most dynamic place to come too.” This attitude to keep growing, exploring and challenging oneself is clearly fundamental to Standing’s life and is evident as well in his artwork.
“That’s a tricky question,” Marc says of the theme of his work. “It’s more about the human experience and the wonderment of the world we live.” One of the strongest elements of Standing’s practice is the incredibly layered quality in his artwork. With so many colours and seemingly limitless imagery, there is an almost infinite amount to find in each painting.
The variety in Standing’s work means that there are so many ideas to explore. A major theme is nature, something he says is influenced by his African heritage. In fact, themes of biology and science are also major components littered throughout his paintings. Then there are the motifs that crop up, for instance, animals and insects. “A stronger motif though are birds,” Marc interjects. They represent an ‘otherness’ he suggests, “a creature part of the earthly realm as well as the skies. In many cultures, they are seen as communicators between the physical and spiritual world.”
What about his masks, the shamanic sculptures that provide evidence that he’s more than a painter. These stem from a residency he did in Mexico. “I wanted to work with a paper mache artist over there and explore the idea of masks as that has been quite a strong theme in my work.” After returning to Hong Kong he began working on totemic type figurines. “It is something I am interested in exploring further and maybe on a larger scale.” Further proof that Standing is a young artist, he was born in 1976, with much more to give and much further to go in his artistic progress.
Early on in his career, Standing used only oil paint, but another residency in 2015 at the One&Only resort in the Maldives lead to a chance to explore using alternative mediums. “Using oil paint over there on an eco-friendly island was impossible as it was difficult to travel with and the humidity would have been an issue,” he explains. “From then on acrylic has been my medium of choice. I use many printing techniques in my work too and acrylic lends itself to working with many layers quickly.” Since then Standing has returned to Amilla Fushi on a number of occasions, more evidence that his pursuit of travel has a positive effect on his output.
I ask about the recurring skull image that crops up across his work. “I have an interest in memento mori, spirituality, and how cultures interpret life, death and the afterlife,” he tells me. “The skull image feeds into this.” Sometimes this imagery is rather subtle, at other times it’s the dominant part of the painting. “I think nearly all artists are fascinated by skulls,” Marc suggests. “I have a human skull in the studio as well as a collection of monkey and bird skulls.”
Marc Standing’s intricately layered mixed media works on paper combine collage elements, ink drawing and textiles, which overlap and collide. This exerts a powerful magnetic attraction to his paintings, urging the viewer to look beyond the surface imagery that results in works that are entrancingly tactile and thought-provoking. In today’s day and age where groups of people are siloed, his status as a self-confessed African artist lends an intriguing notion to what this means, especially because of the obvious freshness to his art from his global influences.