James Marsh (Thank you, Talk Talk)

James marsh - color of spring
The Colour of Spring – music written and performed by Talk Talk, artwork by James Marsh

If you have ever fallen in love with the music of the eighties you might have come across the image above – or at least heard this song.  Yes, I am talking about one of the most criminally under-appreciated bands ever (though they are seeing a lot more love over the past few years): Talk Talk.  Although they have been given a boost by No Doubt covering their most popular song they are still one of the many “big books” of the rock music landscape – a band much more talked about and referenced than actually sat down and listened to.  And, yes, I do literally mean sat down and listened to.  Talk Talk makes music to pay attention to…and I am under the impression their music could change a person’s life.  

james marsh - it's my life
It’s My Life – music written and performed by Talk Talk, artwork by James Marsh

Talk Talk appeared in the world in 1981 as tour support for Duran Duran – apparently just another one of the countless many bands associated with the New Romantic scene. After they had recorded their second album the band began a creative collaboration with Tim Freise-Green that brought them out of the cookie-cutter realm of New Romanticism – though their take on the genre proved to be consistently original and refreshing – into a sound that was entirely their own.  In fact, although initially ignored for the most part by the music press, their final two LPs – Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock

Sherriff of the High Seas - James Marsh
Sherrif of the High Seas – James Marsh

I will write more about Talk Talk in the future, but this post is about James Marsh, the artist who produced images for most of the band’s recorded output.  As you can see the images tend to feature birds or other flying things, natural environments, and a surreal vibe.  The attention that Mr. Marsh pays to the details of his subjects is reason enough for praise, but combine that with his commitment to believable colors and realistic scale and we see how exactly the surrealism might take a viewer off-guard.  No, this isn’t Dali, but take a look at the first image – where but a lepidopterist’s dream would you find 29 (mostly) different butterflies all arranged in such a balanced composition.  Or take the It’s My Life cover where cut-out puzzle piece-looking shapes with no apparent association to each other float over artificial-seeming purple waves and the sun is not quite a sun, and the only living being in the frame is the seagull.  It is by tricks like the waves and sun that Mr. Marsh really flexes his surrealist muscles, in his choice to stylistically render familiar things in a false way that we are confronted with the blatant fact that we are not observing any reality so much as the “disinterested play of thought”.  And in that play of the makers thoughts, the creatures he paints too begin to play and we are drawn to contemplate what the images might be saying when we look at the Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock covers:

Spirit of Eden - music written and performed by Talk Talk, artwork by James Marsh
Spirit of Eden – music written and performed by Talk Talk, artwork by James Marsh
james marsh - laughing stock
Laughing Stock – music written and performed by Talk Talk, artwork by James Marsh

Dragonflies, a few birds and a number of shells/shelled creatures cling to a tree that grows out of the water in the Spirit of Eden painting.  Given the album’s title this tree could be a reference to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the tree of life, in which case, what does it say?  Or the tree could represents the “spirit of Eden”: is the spirit of the ultimate truly that limited and barren-seeming – what about all those animals Adam had to name?  At the same time as we have the hanging question of “why these animals” we are aware that their arrangement in the tree evokes another well-known symbol; a Christmas tree.  The Laughing Stock


After the Flood – music written and performed by Talk Talk, artwork by James Marsh

One thought on “James Marsh (Thank you, Talk Talk)

  1. I fell in love with Talk Talk a few years back… especially obsessed with the song “New Grass”. Beautiful. Thank you for discussing James Marsh – I always loved the artwork too. Speaks to my biophilia…

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