March 22nd, 2012 by Leo Plaw

Brigid Marlin – J.G. Ballard – Paul Delvaux

What do Brigid Marlin, J.G. Ballard and Paul Delvaux have in common? A love of painting, and one particular painting that brings them all together.

"The Rod" Brigid Marlin

"The Rod" Brigid Marlin

It was only recently when I was putting together Brigid Marlin’s profile on the French edition of Fantastic Visions, that during my research, I came across a very interesting interview with Brigid where she recounts the story of how she was brought together with J.G Ballard and Paul Delvaux. Now it is oft cited that Brigid painted a portrait of J.G. Ballard. The significance of J.G. Ballard did not register with me, as it did with Brigid in the beginning.

After seeing one of Brigid’s paintings, “The Rod“, an actor friend of hers, Richard Jones, prompted her to enter the image into a competition from the Science Fiction Monthly magazine. Brigid won the competition, after which she started receiving a great deal of fan mail. She showed the fan mail to Richard, who then exclaimed in excitement, that one of the letters was from J.G. Ballard. “Who?” replied Brigid.

Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was a world renowned novelist, who had a great deal of success with science fiction writing. Ballard had written to Brigid how much of impression her painting, “The Rod” had made on him. This was only fan mail he had ever written to any painter. Again following Richard’s urging, she replied to Ballard. He in return wrote a long reply in appreciation of Brigid’s artwork. 

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. 
J.G. Ballard, Brigid Marlin: An Appreciation (2005).

Ballard and Delvaux/Marlin’s ‘The Mirror’. (Photographer unknown)

Ballard and Delvaux/Marlin’s ‘The Mirror’. (Photographer unknown)

However, Brigid misplaced the letter for some ten years and lost contact with Ballard. But upon re-discovering the letter one day she invited him to one of the Inscape exhibitions. The two took an instant liking to each other and Ballard then commissioned Brigid to recreate two of Paul Delvaux’s paintings that were destroyed during WWII. Brigid was not enthused about Delvaux’s artwork, “…because he mixes black with other colours and makes a grey mess. His colours are terrible. He puts skeletons in his work. His women look like cows, they look like sex blow-up dollies. They look dreadful.” But she accepted the commission nonetheless.

Brigid struggled to find enthusiasm for Delvaux’s paintings, until she hit upon idea. She told Ballard that she wanted to paint his portrait and that he would have to sit for her. Being a recluse, Ballard did not like the idea at all. No portrait, no Delvaux painting was Brigid’s reply. Ballard eventually aquiesced and sat for his for portrait in Brigid’s studio, or at least tried to sit. Brigid found that he was constantly restless, mentally and physically. She also discovered that he had a life long desire to paint. She offered to teach him, but he never really took her up on the offer.

The interview continues on with many observations made by Brigid about his character and continues on with some very interesting insights about Brigid’s life and artwork. It makes for a fascinating read.


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