Martyn Cross Proclaims "All Shall Be Well"
It goes without saying that Martyn Cross' work probably should be shown in the forest. The earth tones, soft and worn colors of the oil painting, the are-they-figures-or-are-they-mythical-beings populate each canvas and work on paper. Everything feels aged and organic, like buried in the soil and unearthed for an exhibition. So a white cube can be jarring.
His first major NYC solo show, All Shall Be Well, on view at Marianne Boesky to close out 2023, starts with a poem: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well," a line from Julian of Norwich. The history goes that Julian was an "English anchoress of the Middle Ages. Her writings, now known as Revelations of Divine Love, are the earliest surviving English language works by a woman." So this is where we start. And it makes sense in the sense that the English painter Cross is inspired by medieval religious imagery and literature, and the gallery notes "Cross layers scratched and scrubbed dry-brushed pigment to yield weathered and worn textures that glow with the internal luminosity of medieval manuscripts and frescoes—that seem to hold within them ambiguous, untold histories. From these surfaces emerge references to the terrestrial and to the celestial: roots grow into the ground and morph into strange, humanoid creatures, immense hands reach down from the clouds, comets transform into eyeballs as they blaze across the sky."
This is a rare scene in a Chelsea gallery; a Middle Ages inspired collection of worn and mythical paintings. Cross is challenging us to think all shall be well, but in an imaginary and utopian way. It may be exactly what we need. —Evan Pricco