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Apocalypse, Now

John Martin's Apocalypse is earth-shattering

Written by . Published on October 3rd 2011.


Apocalypse, Now

WITH apocalyptic films seemingly in vogue, it seems like as good as time as any for an exhibition of the work of John Martin, succinctly called Apocalypse.

Like a film auteur, Martin uses the canvas to tell a story or multiple stories. There are so many subtle nuances, layers and details, the almost 3D-like quality in some paintings, that you feel like you may need to stick the pause on go and have a cup of tea and come back and try and take it all in.

Back before the big screen Martin produced paintings, which were considered the early blockbusters. Bold, epic, panoramic works had a mass appeal – a bit over-the-top Hollywood, you could say. With works named The Fall of Babylon, The Destruction of Pompeii, The Deluge, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise you can tell Martin would have loved a disaster movie.  

Tate Britain - John MartinTate Britain - John Martin

Gazing at Belshazzar’s Feast you really appreciate the almost cinematic appeal and vision of Martin. Like a film auteur, Martin uses the canvas to tell a story or multiple stories. There are so many subtle nuances, layers and details, the almost 3D-like quality in some paintings, that you feel like you may need to stick the pause on go and have a cup of tea and come back and try and take it all in.

23964W_Johnmartinfallofbabylon1819

One of my favourite paintings was Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion, which in itself is a wonderful comic book or sci-fi title. It really does have an early comic book appeal and would not look out of place if produced today. Martin has the notable ability to draw in to single figures, who become the focus point of attention. Like in The Bard, a lone Welsh Bard stands alone surrounded by nature, the elements and impending army. But far from looking like a small futile figure lost in the immense scope of the wider world, the Bard looks heroic, like he is the master of all around him rather than at the destiny of his surroundings and nature. It all adds to a romanticism quality and visualisation of the the sublime.

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The exhibition has a wide range of Martin’s different works on display throughout his career as an artist and even his dabbling in designing a grand sewer system for London.

A lot of Martin’s work draws on biblical themes but religious or secular adherents should equally enjoy this exhibition for the imagination, drama or escapism that it offers up. Martin has undoubtedly influenced cinema and likely other forms of artistic endeavours.

Apocalypse was at the Tate Britain until 15 January 2012, but you can relive his work again and again with Barbara Martin's book John Martin: Apocalypse Now!. Other pieces of John Martin's work are part of the permanent collection at the Tate Britain.

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