Women in the Landscape: Martin Maddox

Classical and Symbolic Dimensions in the Paintings of Martin Maddox
Essay by Dr. Stephanie Gauper

Before turning to oils in late 1989, Martin Maddox's pastel work focused on women in exuberantly naturalistic interiors that embodied his tightrope walk between expressionism and realism. Full of jarring juxtaposition and ambiguity, their forceful personalities were often rooted in natura naturans (nature begetting Herself). The effect was of an eminent menacing force, about to burst asunder from the confining settings. Moving his women into the landscape seems a natural release in the recent oil paintings. Original and visionary, their surreal surroundings and relationships carry the naturalistic topos into symbolism. Using Old Master techniques with a dramatic increase in scale, his figures have gained a sculptural quality and the flesh an opulence that surpasses photo-realist objectivism while fulfilling his urge to idealize and vividly render the texture of organic surfaces. These technical changes have also notably enhanced the intellectual and emotional impact of his subject matter.
The meditative solitude of the woman in Geisha is rooted in the solid, centered position of her naked body. Although nude, she is not vulnerable; we fear to disturb her contemplation of the arduous road before her on the screen. Yet tortured folds of skin, reminiscent of a Max Ernst vision, seem to obtrude on either side of the landscape. So the pain that flesh can know is there in the painting, but not in her. The shadow of her left arm is especially tender, giving more coherent spatial depth and thus making her placement all the more sheltered. This woman is assuredly not sexually available. Maddox has endowed her with an integral and unshakable selfhood that is typical of his work.


Geisha, 1991
Oil on Canvas, 40 x 30

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