John Martin and the End Times

Before I gush about AltFiction (which I haven’t had time to do yet – too busy working into the HTTN groove again, post-con), time for today’s little trip into sunny Sheffield.

The Millennium Gallery has opened an exhibition of work by the romantic Victorian painter John Martin. My partner went to visit it last week and recommended it to me, so today we went to mooch around. Martin was a visionary painter and engraver, marrying highly detailed landscapes with apocalyptic visions of Biblical scenes and the End Times. His canvasses are huge – even those that are quite physically small – playing tricks with scale, perspective and distance in a way that can only be called cinematic. Obviously, he’s had a great influence on Hollywood: look at Harryhausen, or Roland Emmerich, or Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments, for example. But he wasn’t all that critically acclaimed in his own time; I think critics disliked him for the way he perverted their pure landscapes, and the way he tapped into the gloom that smothered the world in much of the 1830s was clearly something that some didn’t want to think about. But his public exhibitions were immensely successful and this exhibition is richly deserved.

John Martin - Sodom & Gomorrah
John Martin's Sodom & Gomorrah


Timely, too, in that it coincides with the economic and environmental troubles across the world. Alongside Martin’s work are several modern takes on his themes and specific works, substituting a Tiannamen Square protester for biblical Joshua, for example, and layering columns from the Financial Times in the background. The allusions are obvious, but no less powerful for that.

And so to Barker’s Pool, in front of the City Hall, where protesters, campaigners and striking unions had gathered to take on the ConDem pension plans. You want End Times? We got ’em.

Barkers Pool, 30/06/11
Barkers Pool, 30/06/11

There’s a slow-gathering momentum at the moment: you can see people walk down the street, staring nervously at the closed/closing-down shops and all those that seem to be closest to the waterline – JJB, Thorntons, TJ Hughes, HMV, Waterstones, as well as the 15000 announced by Lloyds this morning (none of whom will be an executive or one of the idiots in the City, I’ll bet) – and the fear and uncertainty is obvious. Who’s next? Us? What’s left? If we’re all in so much debt, who are we in debt to?

All this while our glorious leaders attempt to coerce councils into closing libraries and galleries left right and centre – libraries gave us power, after all, and wouldn’t we all be better off on a bloody bingo website? Patrick Ness was right when he lambasted that fool Gove, and the fellow from Unison who shouted out from the steps of City Hall this afternoon was right as well: the public sector is being made to bear the brunt of everything that the private bankers won’t take accountability for.

Meanwhile, overseas, Greece is in turmoil. Can’t happen here, Cameron must be hoping. Really? Remember that LibDem conference they held in Sheffield last spring? Where they had to cordon off nearly all of the city centre just so that the delegates could eat their croissants in peace outside the Winter Gardens? There was some ugly tension in the air that weekend, just as there is now. You can feel the trouble brewing, and right now it’s all looking as inevitable as a John Martin apocalypse.

Still, mustn’t grumble, eh?


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Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist.

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