Mandy Martin

Milburn + Arte
17 September - 8 October, 1988

While looking at the work of Mandy Martin one often experiences a certain sense of loss in the Australian landscape: the loss of its original, virgin state, its beauty, and the loss of an Aboriginal presence. But in this exhibition of her recent paintings that experience has altered. The desolation one usually experiences when confronted with the earlier paintings has become somewhat ameliorated. It is as if, for the present, she had lost that sense of rage and awe which previously gave her work such power.

In her earlier work the encroachment of industry into the landscape gave one the sensation of ruin: the land, and humankind (implied), strove to survive the ravages of "progress". Martin enabled the viewer to experience an aesthetics of desolate beauty, her factories standing as a metaphor of man's destructive presence.

Now that sense of desolation has been swept away, and we are left with beauty: beautifully painted idyllic vistas where the invasion of industrialisation has been absorbed into the background. To some, this change could be seen to reflect a weakening of political commitment. It could be argued that to remove her factories into a romantic distance has removed both the critical aspects of her previous work and the immediacy of the threat of destruction. In doing this she could be seen to be lessening the destructive potential of her factories and in doing so weakening her own metaphor. But perhaps this would be too rigid a point of view.

Martin still wants to make us aware of the loss of the land. Does she also want to be less didactic, less obvious? Martin's earlier work was powerful but it showed the face of evil in a rather direct fashion. In these more recent works is she trying to be more complex, more subtle, is she trying to shock us by showing us beauty instead of horror? The shock being that this beauty is utterly lost, utterly distant, like a cold empty dream.

Looking at Martin's new work we could imagine ourselves as living in an utterly synthetic future where even cities and industry have outlived their usefulness. There we console ourselves with nostalgic and pathetic dreams of the past beauty of nature, and ask ourselves was it all worth it?

There is certainly an aura of death about the dispassionate beauty of these new paintings, it is the aura of a desolate dream. Her paintings are beautiful, but they also have an archaic quality, decayed and somewhat obsolete. Death is implied in the more passive, less passionate emotional approach. These new landscapes are more distant, more coolly beautiful, in contrast to the expressionistic heat of her previous work. But the question still remains as to whether these new works communicate their social critique as well as her previous paintings.