Romantic coastal landscape 1986
oil on canvas
180 x 240 cm
Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AO
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2013, TarraWarra Museum of Art collection
Contact TarraWarra Museum of ArtCopyright
Since the early 1980s, Mandy Martin has forged a highly distinctive, multilayered approach to painting the Australian landscape.
Martin's approach combines the perceptual – firsthand observations of topography; the conceptual – an understanding of the changing depictions of the landscape across different periods and cultures; the emotional – a deep engagement with place and response to natural phenomena; the technical – an approach to materials and methods that evoke the sensory qualities of the landscape; and the imaginary – an ability to synthesise a dynamic and powerful pictorial unity that resonates with the viewer.
The painting Romantic coastal landscape was directly informed by Martin’s in depth study of landscapes of the Romantic movement in Great Britain during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She was particularly interested in Edmund Burke’s treatise A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), which defined the sublime as a strong physiological and emotional response to terror or danger that, from a certain distance, can conversely be a source of attraction. This notion found aesthetic expression in many landscapes of the period by artists such as J.M.W. Turner, whose paintings evoke the overpowering, awesome and boundless nature of forces beyond human control and comprehension. Through her deliberate choice of title, Martin aligns her painting with this tradition. However, as Peter Haynes suggests, far from a mere imitation in the style of the Romantic sublime, Martin is interested in ‘adapting her experience of the Australian landscape to a set of limitations based on her understanding of an earlier historical formula, and keeping those limitations open to her aesthetic and thematic concerns’. Painted immediately after her series of brooding, industrial landscapes, Martin adopted a tradition that, tellingly, coincided with the early Industrial Revolution.
From a distance, Romantic coastal landscape contains many of the visual tropes one would expect from its title, a remote and rugged scene in which we are exposed to the dynamic interplay between the elemental forces of sea, sky and land. In this imposing, liminal space, human scale dwindles into insignificance amidst the rocky outcrops and eroded escarpments worn down over millennia by the ever lapping tide, while threatening, Turneresque storm clouds encroach along the horizon. Closer inspection of its materiality reveals how Martin accentuates the tactile qualities of these elements, employing richly impastoed and modelled paint layers to evoke the eroded
surfaces of these ancient cliff faces, adding mixed media such as sand (and possibly earth) to suggest geological sedimentation, and allowing solvent to run over and dissolve the blue pigment to mirror the shimmering, reflective properties of the tidal water. In this Romantic re-visioning of a primordial stretch of coast, Martin seems to ask whether, in the widely despoiled landscape of the late 20th century, such vistas of a seemingly unsullied environment, have maintained their capacity to inspire awe and wonder in the viewer, or is the situation more uncertain and illusory.
- Peter Haynes, Mandy Martin. Painting 1981-2009, (exh. cat.), Canberra: Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, 2008, p. 10.