Martin is a textile and mixed media artist, as well as being an Art therapist, who lives and works in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. Studying a Master of Art Therapy was for Martin a life-changing experience: “I began to understand the power of art to express and heal. Working as an art therapist has taught me to consider things in a much deeper way.”

The last twelve months have been chaotic. This time last year the bush fires had already started in northern NSW and were steadily moving south. Living in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, I was acutely aware that it was only a matter of time till they affected us. And then they did. We had months of smoke and mega fires threatening from both the north and south, it was a period of constant stress and anxiety. Then we had floods… and then we had Covid. It just keeps going on.

I made these works in the period from early November to about April last year, during the ‘Black Summer’. The fires very much influenced the works and became a tangible visual and textural representation of my thoughts and emotions during that time. The works were part of my solo exhibition that was conceptualised as a response to the huge problems and changes facing the world due to human impacts on the environment.

‘NYE 19-20’ (2020), fabric appliqué, dye, acrylic, found plastic objects, plastic sheeting & supplement pills

Every day on the news and social media there are endless stories and warnings of climate change, pollution, rampant capitalism and greed, poverty, loss of habitat, mass extinctions, human’s detrimental impact on the environment and so on. It’s overwhelming and impossible not to get despondent and feel a sense of hopelessness.

My exhibition was titled ‘Landscapes from the Anthropocene’ and considered all of these themes. Through making each of the pieces, I was able to process both consciously and unconsciously my distress about what’s happening. It helped mitigate somewhat that crippling helplessness I was feeling, and I found by expressing myself through the artworks I regained some sense of agency.

I have quite a varied background from which my art has emerged. I went to art school in Ireland and originally specialised in fashion design. From there I went on to work for 20 years as a costumier, making costume for film and theatre. I’ve always loved fabric and textures and would collect the left-over scraps from each of the shows I worked on. I just started piecing these together and slowly developed a form of fabric appliqué that is central to my art practice. The techniques I use in creating my art are all drawn from costume making.

‘How Good IS Coal?’ (2020), fabric appliqué, dye, acrylic, plastic sheeting, resin, charcoal & 5c pieces

Art is a different language that speaks from a much deeper and unconscious level. My art making is a place where I can respond to the world around me. It gives me a deeply personal way of expressing myself that I find words can never achieve. Although you start with a conscious idea, through the process of making, using your hands and your body, you leave that more cognitive headspace and connect with your body and intuition. During this there’s a point where you have to just let go and let the artworks do what they need to do, metamorphosing into beings of their own. When it’s done and you step back and look at them, over time different things reveal themselves within the work. This can be incredibly healing both to you as an artist, but also to other people who view the work and take what they need from it.

People need to spend time with the work and slowly take in what they see. They are both visual and textural and there’s a lot of layers and detail in each of the pieces. I think it takes time to develop an understanding of any artwork. It’s like a relationship that changes over the years.

When I make art I feel completely myself and at peace. I find it ultimately satisfying to create something that is completely my own. For me using my hands to make something is of upmost importance for my wellbeing, a way of maintaining mind body connections and the effect gives me a sense of confidence and achievement. It is a way for me to consider, that which is going on around me, that can be both private and public at the same time.

I look at the world around me and reflect on what’s happening, and by going through that process of first imagining an image and then using my hands to create it my response becomes externalised. It’s a process where I can be completely myself and not feel the need to censor anything, and the effect for me is ultimately satisfying and liberating. I sometimes struggle to articulate myself verbally and feel heard, so for me to speak using the language of my art, is empowering.

My art practice has become a central place for me to reflect and is both informed by and guides my work as a therapist.

More of Martin Robert’s (Registered Art Therapist / Counsellor / Artist DipFA, BA(Hons), MA Ath, AThR) work can be found at:

Images supplied by the artist.  Curation by Dr Linden Wilkinson.
Feature Image: Corporate Highway (2020), fabric appliqué, dye, acrylic, plastic sheeting, thumbtacks & gold leaf.