Exhibition Text (1969 Gallery)
1969 Gallery presents Flamboyant Beckoning, Robert Martin’s first solo exhibition in New York City. Comprised of 9 new paintings and 6 works on paper, this exhibition explores Martin’s relationship with the familiar landscapes of their childhood, and their recent return to the midwest as an adult.
In Robert Martin’s paintings, you will find scenes of rural midwestern landscapes: figures swimming in still lakes and circles of light and rainbows forming as a refraction of the sun’s rays through humidity and upon the water. Each of these paintings captures the vivid moments of dusk, just before nightfall arrives. Evening has personal symbolism, not only for Robert, but for many queer people, as it represents a time of freedom. Under the cover of nightfall, there is safety in anonymity and having the space to be oneself. Beyond figuration, Martin explores queerness through symbolism within nature. The artist first became aware of their own queerness through observing variation and oddity amongst the flora and fauna in the woods of Wisconsin — unexpected phenomena such as five leaf clovers, genetic deformations in flowers, and same-sex pair bonded mallards.
In many of their works, Martin makes direct autobiographical references to both childhood and the present. Oo-De-Lally (Danger in the Water) is a title sourced from Roger Miller’s song “Oo-De-Lally,” from the animated film Robin Hood. Just like its reference, the painting is exploring the innocence and nostalgia of childhood, while also examining an element of danger. In this painting, a hidden figure is grabbing the ankles of the primary character, and attempting to pull them under the water. Other works are affectionate portraits of people from the artist’s life, as with Nate (Memory in Ochre), a painting of Robert’s now husband when the two would hike to waterfalls together prior to moving away from the midwest. Return, one of the largest paintings in the exhibition, is a self portrait. In this painting, Robert is seen from behind, facing the setting sun. Flying in the sky is a Great Blue Heron, known colloquially in the artist’s family for generations as a “Shy Poke”. The position of the figure looking out onto the landscape suggests hope — that this return is one of happiness and peace.
Robert Martin’s paintings are a revisitation of the pastoral spaces they grew up within, and a documentation of the queerness which exists, but is perhaps not shown, in rural America. Rurality has long been considered parallel to or accommodating of conservativism and machismo attitude. This exhibition lovingly depicts the rightful place for queer narratives within these landscapes — it is not a demand for representation, but an acknowledgement and celebration of their place in the world.
photography compliments of 1969 Gallery