File Note 23: Marta Marcé: - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Sherman Sam



Games, Painter, Play Images References Quote Biography Credits

Games, Painter, Play

In 1967 at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni, protested against their ‘traditional’ museum show by refusing to display their objects. Instead they merely handed out a flyer with this message:

“Because painting is a game,
Because painting is the application (consciously or otherwise)
of the rules of composition,
Because painting is the freezing of movement,
Because painting is the representation (or interpretation or appropriation or disputation or presentation) of objects,
Because painting is a springboard for the imagination,
Because painting is spiritual illustration,
Because painting is justification,
Because painting serves an end,
Because to paint is to give aesthetic value to flowers, women, eroticism, the daily environment, art, Dadaism, psychoanalysis, and the war in Vietnam,
‘We are not painters.’

It expressed what in America was described as the separation between ‘life-like-art’ and ‘art-like-art’, that is work that reflected life or painting that appeared to refer to other painting. Now in our post-YBA, Relational Aesthetic, postproduction moment of delays, repetition and irony, Marta Marcé is still a painter.

The Catalan painter, long based in London, is known for her paintings inspired by games. These are the games that are part of our daily lives: Mikado, Chinese Checkers, Mah Jong, Battleship and Snooker, even
the Scalextric racetrack plays a part. Their design, rules and appearance provide a framework for her creativity. She says that games 

“act as a model for the real world – they provide a structure for activity with an uncertain outcome. The act of painting functions in a similar way – there are the boundaries of the canvas, the limitations of paint, the conceptual constraints of making a painting and finally the structure of the environment in which they are shown. I seek to create a space for experimentation and play within this discipline. I want the paintings to have an immense energy, at once vibrant and full of humanity.”

The blank canvas acts like a board, as a space in which actions occur. Her paintings are neither thick nor over-worked, constantly bringing us back to the bare canvas (board) beneath. Thus it is a space that can be reset to blank, so a ‘new game’ can occur. Although she uses the structure of games as an inspiration or ‘point of departure’, what confronts us is her ‘point of arrival’; What do we find? Games? Rules? No, what we find is playful joy, and most important, abstract painting.

Speaking of her paintings through the language of games may well be a good ruse … Marcé playing Poker with our minds. Perhaps Jazz, that sound of structure and improvisation, may provide a better route to think through her sense of wonky rhythms and illogical pattern. In Jazz a melody, tune or rhythm, not unlike the game for Marcé, provides the musician with a structure upon which to intuitively invent and improvise. Like Mary Heilmann and Raoul de Keyser, also artists of casual gestures whose work has been inspired by glimmers of real life, gesture and visual rhythms interweave. Despite the fact that the subject of their work springs from their lives, their paintings – like Marcé’s – distinctly and definitely prioritise painting and abstraction. Like playing jazz these artists break down painting into its basic components (line, colour, form, gesture) and create complex visual structures that are emotive without obvious recourse to representation.

One parallel between games and painting is that they are both played with our hands, this is they are haptic events. The mazy skeins of lines punctuated by dots, scumbled circles, straight stuttering lines, or even accidental drips are evidence of Marcé’s steady and playful hand. From that point of view, her fellow Spaniard Juan Uslé comes to mind. One distinct quality of this painter, famous for complex and lyrical abstractions inspired by dreams and glimpses from daily life, is his sense of touch. Both acknowledge the painter’s existence via a hand-made line. However Uslé’s ‘dreamy’ abstractions appear to be more involved with narratives, whereas by comparison Marcé’s seem all the more direct.

In fact this sense of ease, touch and speed recalls American Post-Painterly Abstraction of the 1960s (e.g. Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland) – a generation that faded due to its perceived ‘decorative’ qualities and influential American critic, Clement Greenberg’s staunch support. More recently, artists like Laura Owens and Monique Prieto have picked up this baton, albeit with a more cavalier and playful attitude. Likewise Marcé’s spirit seems to be of the same ilk. But ‘decorative’ is not the operative term here, rather: ‘simple’, ‘honest’, even ‘bold’ are better words to describe Marcé’s paintings. Nowhere is this more evident than in Out of the Pockets (2007), her wall painting here in the Camden Arts Centre. Inspired by snooker, painted balls scatter, bounce on – and visually – off the walls of the stairwell. Originating as a pyramid in a start position at one end, the balls along the sides depict or narrate the action of play. They are in play. It simultaneously captures action and pattern (if random); Marcé’s game here is at its wittiest, most representational and most adventurous. Here architecture is drawn into our sense of play, and added to Marcé’s alternative repertoire of objects, fabrics and floorpieces. 

If Marcé were to stage a protest today, like Buren-and-gang forty years ago, perhaps there would be no handout. Perhaps we would find a wall painting. There may even be a set of rules for the game. And just what would the rules be? For that matter what would the game be? One of composition, drawing or colour? In Marcé’s world, that is flatland, it is line, gesture and colour, but of course the result is a sort of joie de vivre. These are, after all, bright and poetic objects abundant with an intuitive playfulness, and ultimately the pleasure she takes from her game is there for all of us to partake. The subject matter of these paintings is obviously the game, but the object of her paintings are colour, gesture and form. And the result of adding the two is happiness, and that is what Marcé brings us.


Johan Huizinga Homo Ludens Beacon Press, 1971, ISBN 100807046817

Roger Caillois Les Jeux et les Hommes Gallimard, 1967, ISBN 2070351254

Roger Caillois La Dissymetrie Gallimard, 1973, ISBN 2070284530

Maurice Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology of Perception Routledge Classics, 1958, ISBN 0415278406

Michael Joseph Play the Game Ebury Press, 1978, ISBN 0718117247

Dave Hickey Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy Art Issues Press, 1997, ISBN 0963726455

Pablo Palazuelo Escritos Conversaciones Colegio Oficial de Aparejadores y Arquitectos Técnicos, 1998, ISBN 8489882053

Jose Luis Brea El ruido Secreto: El Arte en la era postuma de la cultura Mestizo, 1996, ISBN 8489356041

Jean de Milleret Entrevistas con Jose Luis Borges Monte Avila Editores, 1970

Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cien años de Soledad Editorial Sudamericana, 1967

Julio Cortazar Rayuela Editorial Sudamericana, 1974

James Brown & Disco Music

Pack up and Dance, Andy Cato

Underground Resistance (Detroit)

Serge Gainsbourg

Salsa: Ismael Rivera, Ruben Blades, Eddi Palmieri, Willie Colon, Fania.

Jean Luc Godard (Dir.) Pierrot Le Fou 1965

Stanley Kubrick (Dir.) 2001: A Space Odyssey 1968

Alfred Hitchcock 

Gus van Sant (Dir.) Psycho 1998

Akira Kurosawa (Dir.) Dreams 1990

“Order, freedom of choice and transformation are part of life. I’m painting the present, my understanding of it, developing forms with colours that contain these vital energies.” Marta Marcé


Marta Marcé was born in Vilafranca del Penedes, Barcelona, Spain in 1972.
Marcé received an MA from the Royal College of Art (2000) with a Bundy Scholarship. She was selected for New Contemporaries in 2000 and her work was nominated for the Jerwood Painting Prize in 2001. Marcé has shown in numerous group shows in Europe and America, including Bloomberg Space (2002); Miller Durazo Gallery, Los Angeles, USA (2002) and the John Moores Gallery, Liverpool (2005). She has had solo shows with Riflemaker, London (2006) and Moriarty Gallery, Madrid, Spain (2007). Marta Marcé is represented by Riflemaker, London. She lives and works in London.


Sherman Sam is an artist and writer based in London.