Mandy Martin was an uncompromising and deeply committed artist. Born in 1952, and passing away in 2021, her work spans vast territory. The new retrospective A Persistent Vision makes this clear, covering Martin’s 45-year practice and emphasising her long-term involvement in fighting for the wellbeing of the Australian environment.
Geelong Gallery CEO and director Jason Smith says Martin, who first rose to prominence in the mid-1970s, was an artist with something serious to say. In 2020-21, before her death, Martin worked with Smith to select 67 works for A Persistent Vision—pieces which were also donated to the gallery’s existing holdings of her work. Smith describes her as an exploratory artist whose reputation for politically charged and socially progressive subject matter is evident in the show, where the power of industry, and the impact of humans on the environment, are represented.
“In putting together the works for Geelong—drawings, prints and paintings— we focused on the ‘industrial’ story and imagery,” says Smith. “It is remarkable that in some of the 1970s political prints we see industrial complexes through the windows of the offices of corporate bosses, and then shift our focus to the sawtooth factory images from the 1980s that propelled Mandy to wide acclaim.”
One of the legacies of Martin’s work and her teaching at the Canberra School of Art was her insistence that art practice is a serious business and, Smith says, “that artists have an essential role in critiquing the cultures” in which they live and work. “Mandy made stark, powerful pictures and sometimes strangely, lyrically beautiful paintings of tough industrial or landscape subjects, but there was substance to the style. I think the core value of Mandy’s vision and art was that it was uncompromising in its messages.”
Mandy Martin: A Persistent Vision
Until 5 February
This article was originally published in the January/February 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.