(From the 17th Sydney Biennale catalogue)
Swedish artist Martin Jacobson was born in Stockholm in 1978, and graduated from the Malmö Art Academy in 2005. He continues to live and work there, creating ink-on-paper drawings that are startling both for their impressive detail and surrealistic conflations of imagery. Jacobson’s sense of curiosity and fantastic recombinations of art historical imagery, objects, landscapes, architectural forms and natural phenomena works to destabilise an ordered understanding of the world.
While Jacobson has previously worked in other media, drawings on paper are his most recognisable and impressive works. These are made as a form of visual collage; he spends time sourcing pictures from flea markets, libraries and the internet. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century illustrations and engravings are an obvious source and he consciously references historical art styles, citing Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78) – known for the Carceri, a series of etchings showing convoluted and subterranean imaginary prisons – as an important influence. His work pivots on the visual and associative relationships between past, present and future.
Recently, Jacobson has moved from working on an intimate scale with pen and ink to a much larger format that requires brushwork rather than penmanship. Three of these new large works will be shown for the first time in the Biennale. Battlefield (2009) is a chaotic and nightmarish scene washed over in blood-red and sickly green. It is a fantastic theatre of war picturing two armed horsemen battling amongst flag-bearing foot soldiers, yet this martial world is disrupted by languishing, wounded rabbits reading novels, a bow-tied black cat apprising the field on its hind legs, and a diminutive clown offering a bowl of food. In this work, the clown represents Hermes, an emblem of transcendence, the Greek god of thieves and the underworld. Amid the carnage and frenzied confusion, it is impossible to decipher who is battling whom; however, it is clear that the false heroism of this great allegorical struggle has been punctured. Red Fire (2009), similarly painted in ink on a large sheet of paper over two-metres wide, depicts an unpopulated city consumed by a raging, orange-red inferno. Here, Jacobson presents an intense apocalyptic vision, capturing a moment of complete devastation as the buildings turn to rubble. In contrast, Party (2009) shows a baroque interior awash with green paint. At the centre of this great hall lies a party of men and women, flanked by observing ‘Indians’ amidst what the artist has described as ‘halfway between a massacre and an orgy’.