I am looking at these three John Martins which I saw actually about 20 years ago when I was interested in doing a video film about the Shakers. This is The Day of Wrath and this reminds me of the Vietnam War and Apocalypse Now. In other words this relates more to films than it does to art historians. The Day of Wrath is very lurid and reminds of science fiction paperback covers its luridness.
I see lightning and thunder I don’t see God at all, you don’t know whether this is God or like a volcano. You see naked people falling into the pit of fire dying. The colour is absolutely unbelievable. I guess you can compare in some ways to Turner but Turner is more about steam, industrial revolution as it got going whereas this was the first terror of the industrial revolution which many people thought was the end of the world.
In fact I think most of the working class people believed this was about to happen and they bought this stuff these things. Actually Martin made a lot of prints they were very successful. John Martin was very popular. He was very successful and I think people resented that particularly the art connoisseurs resented that but this is also true of American writers like Poe, but of course Poe was rediscovered by Baudelaire and the French. Melville was discovered by the French and I think as an American I rediscovered John Martin.
You can see angels. My favourite song actually from my childhood was ‘Angel in the Morning’, it’s about a teenage girl who sinned but she believes she can be an angel in the morning and I think in Rock My Religion when I talked very much about teenage heaven, when teenagers who died go to heaven. I did it around ’81 as an antidote to MTV which I hated.
I used the music of Sonic Youth who I was very close friends with but it really comes pretty much out of the religiosity that I had as a pre- adolescent when I was listening to these radio broadcasts and also very much science fiction. I came and videotaped these paintings but of course I had to cut this down to one hour so I cut them out of Rock My Religion.
But I really like this last painting. What I like is it is very iridescent in other words it looks like in a way… the sixties was very involved with iridescent colours, fluorescent colours like my hero Dan Flavin. This iridescence is in a strange way very visionary. I never got deeply into LSD but I don’t think Martin did either.
In terms of the detail, it’s kind of panoramic and reminds me actually of paintings in America in the nineteenth century like Thomas Cole. It’s a bit luminous but it’s more kind of pre psychedelic and they are meant to be very large and overwhelm you, a little like cinema.