Vogue Australia May 2012
Alexandra SpringClick here to download PDF
If there are paintings on the walls of artist Martine Emdur's living room, I must have overlooked them. Dominating the room is a dramatic view of the Pacific Ocean, framed by French doors flung open on this balmy summer day. Fitting indeed, for the artist who has made her name exploring it's depths. "It's different every time I go underwater," says the petite Emdur, who has invited me into her home to see her latest body of work. "Theres endless amounts of offerings from down there, which I'm happy to grab."
Downstairs, eight large paintings line the walls of her purpose-built studio. Lithesome figures frolic below the waterline, some in bathing suits, some nude. Although this is familiar territory, there's a gentle departure in some of the works, and clearly Emdur is feeling inspired. "Probably to most people, they look similar, but to me they represent a shift into a slightly different direction."
The most imposing work is an enormous canvas filled with a cluster of naked figures underwater. It is the best example of her new angle. "It was really interesting looking at all the figures in the water, the contrasts in skin tones and the dynamics that were forming," she explains. "The playfulness of all the nudity in the water was fantastic."
The layers of figures appealed to her. "With the single figures, it's more about one figure immersed in a body of water, which is something I've always loved to express, but with groups, there is something really fleshy and seductive. It's a bit of mayhem and Wonderlandy, people diving down and upside down and legs all over the place, there is just an added excitement for me."
Indeed, the work has a delicious frisson about it, and although Emdur doesn't think of the work as erotic, she agrees it has a sense of voyeurism. "Everyone likes to look at the naked form, even if they say they don't," she says, laughing. "The naked form is incredibly beautiful and now you've got a reason to stop and stare for a while."
A Facebook call-out brought the group together, ensuring an unpredictability Emdur loves. "You're in the lap of the gods of what you get on the day, who turns up, what they do and what conditions are like." They all jumped off a boat ramp on Sydney's Bondi Beach, happily shedding swimwear underwater. "It was wonderful to be around this group of people who were so comfortable with being nude, really loving being in the water in the nude, and just unashamedly flaunting their fabulousness," she said, with a laugh.
The group was photographed underwater and then Emdur selected shots to base her paintings upon. The new works retain the dreamy otherworldly feeling that makes her paintings so popular. Says gallery owner Tim Olsen: "Metaphorically her work encapsulated the essential freedom that swimming in the ocean brings, a serene, weightless world where swimmers appear and disappear into the depths." Indeed, Emdur wants her audience to immerse themselves in the image, imaging themselves in the image, imagining themselves submerged. "There are so many stressful things happening in the world and our lives day to day are stressful and move so quickly… I like the idea of pulling something into focus that can allow you to take a breath and transport you somewhere else for a minute."