Martin Bladh is a Swedish artist of multiple mediums. His work is dark, visceral, hypnotic and disturbing, laying bare themes of violence, obsession, fantasy, auto-eroticism, self- mutilation, domination, submission, narcissism. Further beyond that, there is also a tribal, base, essential quality to his work, a kind of saving grace which grounds his art and makes it extremely rare and extremely valid.
I first discovered Martin Bladh when I came across images of him online reenacting the murder and dismemberment of my father at the hands of the infamous serial killer Dennis Nilsen. It didn’t shock but intrigued me. I wanted to know more about this man, who he was and what, if anything, he had to offer up artistically. For almost a year I sat back in reflection of his work, personal fears along the lines of the repetition of history preventing me from contacting him. When I finally did, by email, it was not some two-bob-serial-killer-fanboy-internet artist I felt I was making contact with but rather a man who had really broken through, someone living and breathing his art - an art that subsisted outside of galleries and theatres and resided in a bedsit with a polaroid camera often as the sole spectator.
Looking at Bladh’s work one can discern influences from Yukio Mishima, Francis Bacon, Hermann Nitsch, Peter Sotos, Georges Bataille, Dennis Cooper, Dennis Nilsen, David Nebrada, even St Sebastian. They’re all there, all openly on display, yet remarkably Bladh’s work progresses past these influences and finds its very own standing alongside them. There are not many who can transform a Bacon painting into their own, who can litter their work with the quotes of writers and philosophers and have those words seem more their own than their owners’. Martin Bladh can, and does. His arrangement of collages, his cut ups and pasting, his personal markings, all lend a uniqueness to what he does that is unmistakable: everything he produces signed with a signature that cannot be scrawled.
Indeed, the work of Martin Bladh is just that, ‘a work’, an entire body, a Gesamtkunstwerk. His pieces can only be viewed separately, but they never make more sense than when seen within the context of his overall oeuvre. Through a bombardment of the senses, which comes from full exposure to Bladh’s art, one acquires a kind of cognitive idea of his expression and no one part represents that better than the whole - the body.
That kinda brings us to the chaos of Martin’s art and the multiple mediums he uses - not so much through choice but more through necessity and desperation. Text, paint, performance, music, film, no medium inferior to the other, but all holding equal strain of what he seeks to get out. This all builds into his Gesamtkunstwerk and somehow each medium retains the unique artistic print of the man behind them. They all have the same unique feel and all pull us towards the same unique place.
But pull as they might, at whatever they can bring out of us, there is nothing to learn from Bladh’s work but the man. Anything else you walk away with is grace to yourself, extrapolating your own obsessions and fears and disgusts from what he cuts, slices and serves up. And it makes sense. Bladh’s art/performances are not put on show for us but for him, they are fantasies that follow the man into his most intimate personal spaces. He would create and play these things out if he was floating lost through space alone. His main audience is himself and that leads back to the narcissistic qualities that were mentioned before.
Of course, that summing up has about as many holes in it as a colander. It is the truth of a lie and sits rather unsteadily with the exhibitionism (even the narcissism) that Martin freely admits to being present within his work. And I can offer no marriage or resolution to that. All I can say is that as with the best, his work is full of contradictions and it’s those contradictions that make it impossible to define his art, but possible to define the artist.
Martin Bladh’s work will not be to everyone’s taste. He is definitely much more Yuck than Yum. But it’s important one knows of him, if only to disregard, rubbish or become nauseous over what he does. Still, for all the shock in Bladh’s work, he is anything but a shock artist. Bladh’s motivation for creating is too self-directed to care for such things. And finally, it is in that self-obsession/worship, Bladh’s unabashed display of auto-eroticism, that one finds an honesty and an integrity in his work that is desperately lacking in the arts today. Martin Bladh has deserted the middle ground and is off somewhere all on his own.