STATEMENT 2009: Mission Gallery Swansea

A Million Years of Nothing

This exhibition consists of a group of works from the 1980s, a recent series of wall-mounted objects, and a few paintings from about eight years ago.  Very little of this work has been exhibited before.  The 1980s pieces are related to earlier work (not shown here) made for a student exhibition in 1979.

Earlier in the 1970s I found that every object I produced, which was usually a painting, seemed to look too much like someone else’s work.  Another problem was that each piece of work was dependent on a discrete idea, rather than being the result of an ongoing working process.  Around 1978, prompted by a lifelong interest in animals, I realised that the visual language of zoological museums and natural history books could be used in art.  These museums and books include fascinating combinations of signs, symbols, images, forms and materials, which can pass unnoticed, because attention tends to be focussed more on the information being communicated than on the language.  If the educational message is absent, the medium becomes more visible.  When I started to make use of this language taken from outside art, art history became less of a burden.  What to make and how to work was no longer a problem. 

The language allowed me to use humour and absurdity because it has a surface appearance of truth.  Information can be perceived as being true or factual partly because of the manner of its presentation (science has more authority than advertising, for example).  Very few of these works were easily completed; they were the result of anxious concentration on avoiding unwanted interpretations, associations and implications.  The apparent absence of decipherable meaning feels to me like a metaphor for the incomprehensibility of the world around us.

The later work in the exhibition manifests some of the same attitudes and interests, though perhaps less directly.  I have never seen myself as any kind of radical artist, nor as a painter, though much of my work has been paintings.  I think of paintings as flat objects.  A painting is often most obviously a coloured surface and/or a window-like illusion, but it is also an object of a certain size and shape, placed on a wall in a particular position, made of various materials, with a third dimension.  To varying degrees, all my work has attempted to give concrete form to two everyday observations.  Firstly, I am amazed by the wonder of visual representation, and in particular by the way paint can be seen as a physical substance, an area of colour, or the image of something else.  Secondly, I will never quite come to terms with the profusion and the mute impenetrability of material things.  There are always new objects to see, while familiar objects retain their mystery and beauty. 

Nick Martin
June 2009