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An Appreciation by J.G. Ballard

The art of Brigid Marlin describes a visionary world of almost unlimited dimensions and self- sufficiency. Fifteen years ago, when I first saw The Rod, one of her most ambitious paintings, reproduced in a magazine, I was so impressed by its imaginative sweep that I sent an enthusiastic letter of appreciation to her, the only fan letter I have ever sent to a painter. The sense of a clearly realised poetic universe, in which every detail, however modest, was accorded equal attention, was what most gripped my imagination. 

Surrealism, which had played a large part in forming my own view of the world, had seemed to falter with the death or old age of its greatest practitioners Max Ernst, Magritte, Dali and Delvaux and here in Brigid Marlin was a painter who might be the first of the next generation. I remember writing to her with as much excitement as I felt when I came across the paintings of Francis Bacon in the 1950s. The surrealist dream of remaking the world and revealing its true nature seemed to live on in the work of this woman painter, about whom I knew nothing I assumed that the wistful and even ethereal figure who appeared in many of the paintings was a self- portrait of the artist. In fact, I was quite wrong, just as I was wrong to think of Brigid Marlin as a surrealist, though I am sure that a great deal of the surrealist world-view is subsumed within her own vision. In the ten years after my fan letter to her I kept a close watch for any further reproductions of her work, and I was delighted when, out of the blue, I one day received from her an invitation to a private view at the London gallery showing her latest work. She told me that she would be there, and I looked forward to meeting my ethereal poetess. 

As it happened, Brigid Marlin was a tall and attractive American woman with a strong personality and a lively sense of humour, a superb mimic and robust antagonist in any argument who was always ready to fight her own corner. I liked her immediately. Looking back on our first meeting, I compliment her on the charity and forbearance she showed in ignoring an unintended piece of rudeness on my part. Some time earlier, while going through a collection of Delvaux reproductions, I noticed several black and white photographs of paintings that had been destroyed during the second World War. When I met Brigid Marlin at her gallery I omitted to ask for the prices of her own works and tactlessly suggested that she accept a commission from me to recreate two of the lost Delvaux paintings. She gracefully accepted, and on my visits to her studio in Hemel Hempstead I got to know this remarkable American woman, saw many more of her paintings and learned a great deal about her unique visionary imagination. Later still, she painted my portrait, which is now part of the National Portrait Gallery collection in London. 

Robust conversationalist and restless traveler, moving one week to the Himalayas and the next to Chicago or Los Angeles, Brigid Marlin is also a deeply religious woman, with a strong Christian faith that has been tested and proved by certain unhappy events in the life of her family, sadnesses that now lie in the past. What I had seen as the surrealist elements in her painting were, rather, the transformations brought about by the power of faith and her religious experience of that far richer world that lies beyond the world of appearances. In the best and most ambitious of her paintings we see clearly her dramatic and visionary remaking of the world, but this regeneration of life and space and spirit is present even in her smallest and most domestic images. In her work, as in the greatest of the surrealists, archaic myth and spiritual apocalypse meet and fuse.