John Martin at the Tate Britain

If there’s anything an art gallery might need in these troubled times it’s a catchy name to entice viewers. Even for a 19th-century artist, whose popularity fluctuated in his own lifetime, the title Apocalypse is enough to draw the bloodthirsty attention of a society obsessed with Judgment Day.

It seems apt that now should be the time for Tate Britain to showcase a vast collection of the artist John Martin’s work, in which Martin illustrates with vigour and imagination all the ‘what ifs?’ that have yet to be answered by your average post apocalyptic novel or zombie film. Martin depicts every possible biblical scenario of what will happen when the world finally ends with his spectacular panoramic scenery.

Those looking for a more light hearted culture experience will be pleased to know that it’s not all doom and gloom. On entry to the exhibition there are some perfectly lovely landscapes, a few illustrations of Greek mythology and some beautifully painted scenery of a few nymphs, satyrs and waterfalls. It’s certainly a strange sight to see when entering an exhibition titled Apocalypse, so it’s in the next room that Martin makes an impression. Each frame represents a vast image of a brightly coloured realm. Many of these were inspired by biblical descriptions of Judgement Day, and present a nightmarish vision of the apocalypse.

The paintings are fantastic in themselves; stepping a few feet back allows a view through a window to another realm filled with extraordinary architecture and cityscapes, while others offer a look into the cavernous depths of hell. The closer you step towards these small framed kingdoms, the more there is to absorb. It’s not often you see such miniscule and impressive detail in such large landscape paintings. There is something more to look at with every movement of the eye.

Martin’s dramatic depictions of the End Of Days, despite being imagined and created in the 19th century, have been used as the inspiration for hundreds of modern works, including backdrops in video games and the incredible landscapes in many science fiction and war films. This fact alone serves as a brilliant example of how art is always relevant and inspiring. Martin is an excellent example of how modern creations were dreamt up more than a hundred years ago: even in the early 19th-century Martin was drawing up engineering designs for a rail network in London, leading to a personal financial crisis

Apocalypse, with its fantastic imagery serves as a great testament to John Martin, who experienced very mixed reviews and waning popularity during his lifetime. Many considered his depictions vulgar and macabre, but he was favoured in all the right places in order to remain in the public eye. It seems only fair to display his work to an audience without the bias of his peers, in order to impress upon the viewer the intentions of Martin’s work. The Tate also has a presentation of three of his works, complete with dramatic lighting and an informative narration, in order to stage a reimagining of his painting ‘The Last Judgement’. Highly recommended.

John Martin’s Apocalypse is open until January 15, 2012 at:

Tate Britain

Tel: 020 7887 8008

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