New resolutions? New challenges? Mark Titchner’s work, Only the First Step is Difficult from 2005 encapsulates both the excitement and trepidation of taking that first step…

Only the First Step is Difficult

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Like a cultural magpie, Mark Titchner borrows and re-purposes text from varied sources in his work, from poetry and philosophy to pop songs. Only the First Step is Difficult references a line written by the French literary hostess and art patron, Marie Anne de Vichy-Chamrond, marquise du Deffand (1697–1780) in a letter to the mathematician and philosopher, Jean Le Rond d’Alembert: ‘The distance doesn’t matter; it is only the first step that is most difficult’.

Du Deffand’s quote refers to the the 3rd century legend of St Denis, the first Bishop of Paris and martyr, who allegedly carried his own severed head for six miles after his execution. Placing this sentiment at the heart of his own work from 2005, Titchner reflects on the way that a piece of text can resonate with new contexts and produce meaning to anyone who reads it. As he says, ‘The inclusion of the title… is a way of getting the viewer literally to read the work, so an active conceptual process immediately begins between the viewer and the work’.

Titchner is fascinated by the multiplicity of routes that historical and cultural references infiltrate mainstream culture and media, from obscure avant-garde philosophies to pop references. Divorced from their original context, the meanings of once complex words and ideas are transformed into catchphrases and clichés, becoming more ambiguous as a result. Interested in the way that ideas address the mundanity of everyday life, his work questions the complex collective identities that are so often thrust upon individuals, and the constant aspirations or desires that this creates.

In terms of form, Titchner’s text-based works are influenced by a range of sources including graffiti art and traditional ecclesiastical and protest banners. The patterns incorporated in many of his works also derive from his memories of colourful 1970s wallpaper designs from his parents’ home. In turn, these patterns echo modernist art from early 20th century paintings by Russian Constructivist, Kasimir Malevich, to Op Art works of the 1950s and ‘60s by Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely.

Mark Titchner was born in Luton, Bedfordshire. After studying at the Hertfordshire College of Art and Design, he completed his MA at Central St Martins, London. Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2006, he has exhibited his work widely in the UK and abroad. Working across multiple media, some of Titchner’s recent public commissions include Me Here Now for London Bridge Station and Not for self but for all at 5 Pancras Square (both 2018); and Love Flags for South Bank Centre (2014).