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Paul Martinson: Dream Swimmers (2011)


Sat 25 Jun 2011, 10:00am–6:00pm
Sun 26 Jun 2011, 10:00am–6:00pm
Mon 27 Jun 2011, 10:00am–6:00pm
Tue 28 Jun 2011, 10:00am–6:00pm
Wed 29 Jun 2011, 10:00am–6:00pm

Where: Milford Galleries Queenstown, 9a Earl Street, Queenstown

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free


Listed by: Milford Galleries

The subjects in Paul Martinson’s exquisitely rendered watercolours are ‘en-tranced’. Magpies doze in quiet companionship, kingfishers float in a dreamscape, herons and women sleep entwined. Species are instantly recognisable as tui, gannet, waxeye, but despite his meticulous depiction of pattern and colour, Martinson’s works are not bird portraits or reference plates.

Martinson allows his mind’s eye to wander and, drawing on the philosophies of surrealism, believes that “to draw spontaneously without conscious reference to normality, morality and social taboos…is an attempt to allow a ‘free flow’ of imagery and ideas as a painter.”

This ‘free flow’ permits him to create spaces where birds and women may be lovers or where birds sleep tucked up in individual ‘pigeonholes’ with bills, beaks and feet falling unselfconsciously out of the picture plane. The juxtaposition of the rational and the irrational is a powerful tool and the viewer has no choice but to examine the relationships between what is ‘real’ and what is not.

The (mostly faceless) female forms that cohabit with birdlife in Martinson’s ‘trance-space’ can be read as an archetypal woman: at once mother, lover, companion, living creation. The potentially unsettling sensuality of these paintings is tempered with the tenderness with which the artist has assembled the tableaux. Avian and human bodies curve in to one another and claws do not clutch, but embrace. The scenes bring to mind the myth of Leda and the Swan, but the violence and drama of that story is absent here.

There is stillness inherent in these works, heightened by the textural richness and harmony of Martinson’s mark-making. Using combinations of watercolour, watercolour pencil, gouache and acrylic, he creates the lush, moody backgrounds evident in a work such as ‘Wedding Safari’ while at the same time describing the delicate tracery of feathers and claws. A fine sense of balance in the composition prevails, both spatially and in the tonal textures the artist uses: feathers and hair mimic one another as do wings and limbs. Fabrics are draped softly, providing a foil for hard, piercing beaks.

Tranquillity suffuses Martinson’s scenes, yet his figures exhibit a dynamism that is especially seen in a work such as ‘The Mimics’. The artist’s composition of curved bodies, taut limbs and flying hair implies that this repose is purposeful – the figures appear to be actively dreaming rather than passively slumbering. Indeed, in ‘The Transformation of Venus’ change is happening before our eyes as woman becomes bird – or does bird become woman?

Martinson does not allow the viewer to sit on the fence. If his works evoke strong reaction, it is testament to his consummate skill at showing us things that may unnerve and unsettle. His investigation of the irrational subconscious gives us the freedom to look at his works unhindered by a defined ‘reality’ and invites us to look into our own imaginings, whether or not we will.