Once again, in a way that is rare among contemporary Australian painters, Mandy Martin, in Wanderers in the Desert of the Real, makes a bold excursion into the Sublime. Large in scale, and with great authority and presence, these new paintings mark a return to the strong central line of her work and to the preoccupations that for more than two decades now have grandly sustained it: the natural forces that drive the world we inhabit, which can be physically energising, and spiritually uplifting, but are awesome, unpredictable, potentially devastating and almost entirely outside our control.

To say this is to point to the scope of what Martin attempts, the space her paintings occupy, her evocation of the historical and allusive—the reference here to Hannibal, Warburton, and to the works of such precursors as Turner and John Martin, her interest in cataclysm and climate change. These elements of the works, their intellectual background, which is where some of them no doubt begin, is best spoken of, if speech is necessary, by the artist herself. For the viewer it is the purely painterly quality of the works that is likely to arrest our attention, and the effect they produce that constitutes their power and appeal. This increases, after the first strong impression, the more drawn we are to come back and attend more closely. To the way for example that the paint goes on: its texture, as the titanium white and black oxide, the red and yellow ruddle through which Martin brings earth, actual earth, right into the studio, and lays it on the canvas, makes a direct connection between the ingredients of earth and the natural forces she is engaged with, but also with her own energy in turning raw canvas into landscape, a place where force, space, colour, effort, combine to reconstruct an objective world, out there, as a world of mind, consciousness, immediate sensory drama that we are invited to respond to and enter.

The pleasures for the viewer are large. The play of concave and straight lines in Wallerawang Powerhouse, with its brooding mixture of grandeur and the darkly Satanic; the bands of textured chrome and black in Iceberg; the luscious and entirely unexpected band of gold behind the anthills (natural versions of the smokestacks in the industrial landscapes) in Tanimi Spinifex fires. Wanderers in the Deserts of the Real offers us access to the mind, but also to the eye and hand, of an artist in full possession of herself and at the peak of her art.

—David Malouf, February, 2008

Wanderers in the Desert of the Real

This continuing series brings together my cumulative interests from the past decades, all underpinned by a consuming passion for the future of the landscape we inhabit.

The industrial images, some re-workings from the 1980’s are taken up again in recent encounters with Wallerawang Powerhouse and the tailings Dam at Cadia Gold Mine, virtually on my door step in Central West New South Wales. The pristine and resilient landscape always in my mind’s eye and the subject of many of my landscape studies over the past decades is represented here in Tanami, Spinifex Fires. It is juxtaposed with the industrial landscape and in turn the inevitable, during this current period of heightened awareness of global warming, Iceberg painting. These were gleaned in part from helicopter flights on You Tube around icebergs marooned off New Zealand and also from photographs taken on the recent expedition my friend Tom Griffiths took to Antarctica. I am indebted to them.

The icebergs and glaciers are a powerful part of contemporary psyche, just as they were during the Maunder Minimum of Brueghel’s 1550 era. Echoes of the Chiliastes and then the late 19th century Millenialists’ fear of the industrial era and the demise of civilisation are found in John Martin’s Macbeth, painted with glacier as the central motif and also in the towering wave of his The Deluge. JMW Turner associated lightning with the monuments of dead religions; Thunderstorm over Paestum and was devoted to depictions of the sublime terror of landscape; Mer de Glace. His perceptions about the scale and folly of the human footprint, Snowstorm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps foreshadow the folly and impetuous vain glory of many inland Australian explorers. Many of my paintings since the 1990’s have dwelt on the colonial misreading of our land.  In this series the wanderings of E. C. Warburton, emerging from the Great Sandy Desert at night, half dead on his camel, blinded by the desert, carry resonances with Hannibal dwarfed by the snowstorm in the Alps. 

—Mandy Martin, February, 2008

1. Martyn Jolly, Art Monthly May # 199 2007 P.12 “Eyes, Lies and Illusions” quoting Slavoj Zizek a postmodern philosopher; “our reliance on prostheses has turned us all into wanderers in the desert of the real”

Mandy Martin has been exhibiting her work nationally and internationally for over thirty years. Her works are held in many collections in Australia and overseas, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and most major public collections in Australia.  She has exhibited widely in international group exhibitions including ‘XII Biennale de Paris’, Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1982), ‘Australian Visions’, Guggenheim Museum, New York (1984), ‘3 Internationale Triennale de Zeichnung’, Kuntshall, Nurnberg (1985), and ‘Identities – Art from Australia’, National Gallery Tai Pei, Taiwan (1993). In 2009 Martin will have a major retrospective at the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery. Martin has been the recipient of numerous awards and commissions, such as “Red Ochre Cove’ at New Parliament House, Canberra (1988). ‘Wanderers in the Desert of the Real’ will be Martin’s twelfth solo exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

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