Doug Martin and the Persistence of Nature

Art Review by Donald Goddard

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At the beginning of the 21st century, there is no sign of pavement or telephone poles or bottle caps in Doug Martin's Adirondack landscapes, unlike some of George Inness's panoramas of the mid- to late 19th century, in which a faint railroad train or factory might appear. Neither are there human beings, unlike Thomas Cole's reverent habitations of the early 19th century. Nor hardly a flower or green leaf (there are some in Good Thursday of 1997), but that is a matter of season. There are no exalted effects of nature, as in Bierstadt's sunsets, nor poetic effects, as in Blakelock's moon-silhouetted forests, nor mythological effects, as in Ryder's Wagnerian haunts. One might say that idealism, along with realism, is circumscribed. There are rocks, trees, water, sky (though not always the last). These are pre-landscapes, durational landscapes; they exist at the point at which we (through the artist) can see them (and "see" becomes a rather large word).

© Doug Martin
Good Thursday, 1997
Oil, Ink, Paper on Canvas
44 X 40" UF

It's not that the landscapes make sense or fall into place at a certain point; there are too many disruptions for that, of water changing course, of underlayers emerging, of unexpected shapes. But they do attain a totality, rather like looking through a lens and finding the focal length that can carry the optimum amount of visual and spiritual information without veering into chaos. There is a convergence of artistic imagination and natural structure.

In earlier works, Martin painted over topographical maps (the only one in this show is Dusted, 1996), which represent human rationalization of or intrusion on the landscape, the intersection of science and art. Contour lines are seen through the overlay of paint occasionally, as one might glimpse a map during a walk in the woods. They indicate, as someone noted, a journey, or the intention of a journey. Between the map and the actuality of the land is the painting.

The map is a structure, but what kind of structure? One of many, I suppose, as Mondrian's horizontals and verticals might have been. But Martin recognizes, and struggles with, details within details. There is no end to how deeply one can journey, nor how far. In subsequent paintings, such as Good Thursday, Martin paints over a grid of small paper squares on which have already been painted mazelike clusters of sinuous line, units of energy, what in another context might be roots or branches. Energy flows from abstraction into the landscape and back again. The point of meditation is the confluence between painted gesture and the flow of water, for instance, or the shape of a rock. Yet the scene is above all familiar and palpable.

© Doug Martin
Persistence of Nature, 2000
Oil on Canvas 86 X 78" UF

So they fight against each other, the inside and the outside. That and depthless energy are the source of anxiety that others have observed, particularly in Martin's recent work. In Rocks, 1999, there is no system to account for shapes or how they are put together. In The Persistence of Nature, 1999, the falling water moves as it will and then runs into a horizontal line across the canvas. With enough theories and formulas, it might be possible to account for all the phenomena and oddities in these and other works, but the distance between formula and phenomena might be too great. Meanwhile, Martin confronts us with unfathomable planes of existence in which inside and outside succumb to a larger structure that depends on eccentricity as a natural part of predetermination.

Martin's remarkable series of inkjet prints, called Valley, Flatwater, and Bend, 2000, stretches in great panoramas beyond the limits of structure, as though line were unraveling from a single source, and indeed the landscape does emerge out of a tangle of lines inValley. The sky is more prominent here and the long horizontal shapes make the land itself seem more distant. Larger worlds are now contained within smaller worlds, literally in the case of Bend, in which the earth, a globe showing North and South America, and a night sky appear with other circles almost as the detritus of nature underfoot in the foreground. The continuum is reversed—or perhaps not.

Donald Goddard © 2000

© Doug Martin
Bend, 2000
Inkjet Print on Arches paper with UV ink - AP
26 5/8 X 96" UF, 29 3/8 X 99" F

Painting is an organic experience. I try to represent and respect my experience of place. At the same time, process encourages following paths indicated by the paint. Often these journeys are more about abstraction than representation. Beneath the stillness of these images lies an argument between description and painting's tendency to go where it wants to go. The conversation is what I love about painting. -- Doug Martin

The work was exhibited at Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY

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