The Neon Lovechild of Modern Art
When trying to understand or describe a work of art, classifying it into a style or a genre of art is typically the first step. That large balloon animal made of copper in Hyde Park is an installation sculpture. That reclining nude on canvas in the Prado is modern portraiture. That pencil sketch of melting faces and grasshoppers has a definite Surrealist tone.
This ability to categorize and divide art allows viewers to feel comfortable with the work, as though they can understand the artist's intentions more fully, based off the historical movement or technique of the individual work. For the work of Australian-born artist Rowena Martinich, this classification and cubbyholing doesn't apply. Her work constantly crosses the boundaries of space, style, genre, and medium, making her "riotous cathedrals of color" the arguments of an ongoing thesis about modern art.
Martinich's work, which has been receiving attention and praise for nearly a decade, is a unique blend of action and color, but what sets her apart from so many other modern artists is the flexibility of her style. Whether her pieces are neat squares of canvas on the white walls of a gallery, or explosions of vibrant life in the display windows of a couture boutique, they always contain a dynamic and engaging element that transcends their surroundings.
For those familiar with modern art, Martinich's art does have obvious vestiges of Abstract Expression, made famous by Jackson Pollock and his recognizable slashes of color through drip painting. However, the use of such striking, neon colors also connotes a Pop Art feel, as does the deeper symbolism of certain artworks' placement within commercial or industrial design, like Martinich's POD Project.
At the same time, some of her commercial installments seem to focus on shattered, abstract placement and separation of individual parts, less a mural than a cut-up, or even an advanced installment of neo-Cubism. What makes those pieces even more interesting is that the original image, which appears to have been broken and divided, was an abstract painting to start with. This differs from works of analytic Cubism, which were commonly deconstructions of recognizable objects.
I think the most interesting art movement that Martinich's work reminds viewers of is Surrealism. The placement of her visual exclamations of color and creation in sometimes banal or ignored spaces creates a bizarre sensation in the viewer. Not to mention, the dripping lines of paint, which typify her work, remind me of imagery that would make a certain mustachioed Surrealist proud. The unexpected and surprising appearance of Martinich's brightly colored chunks of surreality when you turn a random corner can seem like the stuff of Dali's dreams. That is the result of taking Martinich's art out of the gallery or museum space; it is given space to breathe, function, and turn any surface into canvas.
Her installments typically involve glass, and the double-sided viewing feature that glass provides adds yet another unusual level to her art. Canvas paintings are only one-sided, while sculptures exist in three dimensions. By using glass, Martinich can have the best of both, a two-dimensional, flat space with 360 degrees of perspective.
Many of Martinich's projects are collaborative, particularly those that mix photrealistic images with her beautiful, chaotic landscapes. Working with other talented artists gives Martinich even more chances to experiment, and more influences to adopt and adapt into her overall vision.
The beauty of all abstract art is the infinite range of meaning or intent that can be discovered by the viewers. Every person sees something different, and that variability keeps the work contemporary and relevant over time, in a way that other forms of art do not. Not only does Martinich provide fascinating abstract work to keep viewers engaged and intrigued for years to come, she also offers a free lesson in modern art history for those that are eager to learn.
There are those "Old Guard" art fans that are still wary of the wild, free-mindedness of ultra-modern styles, but as we continue to see galleries and public spaces embracing the unique qualities of artists like Martinich, the writing is clearly "on the wall". The question of where art will go next is so often heard because some narrow-minded critics think that art is running out of directions, as though the bounds of artistic innovation have been reached.
If Rowena Martinich is any indication, taking the old and making it new again might be the best step forward. Her type of "retro-modernity" combines a powerful adaptation to the present with a tip of the cap to the imaginative past.
Her latest work was the Balmoral Regional Mural Project, a collaboration with Geoffrey Carran to inject some life into the blank wall of the Australian town's community store. Most of Martinich's work can be seen in and around Melbourne, as well as other parts of Australia, but she has an international presence as well, and her spectacular work can be seen popping up in France and China.
Do you think this art would add some beauty and life to the boring corners of the world? Or does it strike you as visual noise, best left to the graffiti artists in unadmired alleys? Whatever you opinion of her work, it certainly does raise some questions about where art has been, and where it's heading next!
To see all of Martinich's stunning slices of life or to add a canvas to your own collection, visit her website.
All images subject to copyright by the artist.