Martin King – caelum et terram (sky and earth)
In this large etching titled Overflow, we see a cormorant silhouetted in stages of flight - the site could be anywhere, and it could be any bird flying in our field of vision, but it is, in fact, the Darling River.
The artist, Martin King, believes that birds have a timeless quality and an ability to ‘carry all history before them’, in which they hold not one reality but many.
Images of birds have pre-occupied King for the past two decades and his use of the darkened silhouette is both romantic, temporal image of time or things passing as well as an enigmatic or atmospheric play about distance, vision and movement. As King has said, ‘I am not concerned with ornithological accuracy; I want to convey the patterned elements, the texture and the shape, the physical lightness of the form’. But his art is also homage to the species. Above all Martin King’s interest in birds, both as a printmaker and a lay ornithologist, is about our connection with nature and the life of birds between the earth and the sky. In his print ‘ghost dance; indigo’, the lyre bird, which mimics other animals and sounds, becomes an intermediary, a unique peacemaker amongst Australian specimens, foiling or hoodwinking human intervention when they step into its forest. Human skulls are woven into the ornamental display of this iconic bird’s feathers and again in his ‘Study for false Ornithology’, which has two Major Mitchell cockatoos perched on the tree branch - that takes the form of a human forearm skeleton- this image refers to the colonization of land and the threat it has developed to indigenous species of birds and animals, and hence their decline. In the relief print ‘dream, Black Saturday: indigo’, a work that stems from Martin King’s recent State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship and his study of William Strutt’s astounding painting Black Saturday, 1851, in which animals, reptiles, birds and humans flee a raging bushfire, we see an exhausted kangaroo with a struggling blue heron behind it, which gives the Impression the kangaroo has grown wings. The image falsely implies an animal at rest, a benign co-existence between bird and animal, rather than the tragedy of the bushfire.
What these images and prints also remind us of is how important these pieces are - the bird is a barometer of our environment; where there is water and sustainability you will find bird life, as in King’s Prints flow V and overflow - where there is none you will find nature withered and humanity in trouble as in false ornithology. Birds guide Martin King into the landscape, and he has recorded them in such diverse habitats as the remote regions of the Antarctic with its albatross, snow petrels, storm petrels and giant petrels, the Kestrals and galahs or the Wimmera and the wrens and major Mitchell cockatoos of the Lake Mungo region. This exhibition helps us to see the beauty of birds.
Sheridan Palmer – January 2019