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Martin Kingdom

Martin Kingdom Finds Hope in an Uncertain Future

Martin Kingdom is a London-based artist and illustrator (you might recognize the charming mascots he created for Prufrock Coffee and Claude Coffee). He thinks about the future a lot — partly because he also spends his Fridays teaching young children through Forest School, leading them through the woods and helping them see how they fit into the natural environment. When he makes art, he’s thinking about similar ideas: What fits where? What will change, and what will stay the same? How can we redirect from environmental destruction to environmental redemption? And most importantly: What do we want our future to look like?

Martin chose a select number of his pieces for us to tell a story about regrowth, reimagination, and regeneration. His descriptions of them ask us to slip into a new, alternative way of thinking about future natural landscapes, one that isn’t interested exclusively in bleakness or decay, or unrecognizable fantasy and out-of-control growth, but finds beauty in the collision of it all.

I depict nature, growth, plant and animal life, built structures, signs of human life, death, decay. As an artist and illustrator, I’m able to use various mediums to suit these different subject matters. All of these pictorial elements, inspired by my collection of postcards, encyclopedias, old books and sketching from life, allow me to represent and ponder the world and the environment from an imaginary state—but without creating distance, preventing the images from existing in a realm of their own as imagined scenes often are. Rather, we’re able to see them as real possibilities for the world we live in now, or a combination of our present worlds.


In my work, I often create collage-like images and scenes where intentionally curious and playful environments exist in a non-specific time and place. These are imagined and even idealized scenes, like good vintage postcards, but we still register them as something familiar and knowable.

The feeling I have and hope others have about these collage paintings is one of a narrative, or journey. I call them ‘journey paintings,’ as they usually include a beautiful, picture-perfect scene, with other elements linked to it. I want the viewer to connect these elements, to conjure a story, or alternative possibilities, and to see it as a whole, not a selection of unconnected images


I approach my scenes and imagery with a gentle ambiguity to show elements of environmental destruction and the demise of animals. But my art doesn’t present those things as the only realistic outcome for our world. Rather, my work asks questions about our collective future and expresses hope and the possibility for regrowth and regeneration, even if they take on a surprising form and shape.

I’m interested in the in-between times: a pre-apocalypse, post-extinction kind of idea. There is a model called Creative Destruction, which is also used in economics, in which an ecosystem can grow and undergo continuous change, dying and regrowing, a system that is internally organised and balanced. This idea interests me greatly, and brings up huge possibilities and questions about our future; that for the natural world to recover, humans have to radically alter their behaviour, or potentially not be around in such large numbers, so nature can be left alone to right itself again. The fact that there generally aren’t any people in my work could suggest we have become extinct, or at least are removed from this environment. This particular drawing portrays an orange sky and a primitive beehive in the foreground. Are there bees living in that beehive? Why is the sky orange? These things may not be so obvious at first, but that’s what i’m trying to do, to make the viewer think a little deeper about my work and in turn the world around them.


The ambiguity in my work is also heightened by the mysterious animals it contains, the unusual mammals and curious bird species, and by contrasting elements, natural and man-made, inanimate and animal, a mushroom next to a cactus, a cosy cottage in front of a burning skyscraper, beehives and snaking vines.

Sometimes, in the case of a cactus and a mushroom, the elements are an impossibility (mushrooms like damp environments, while cacti like dry ones), and this might stimulate a question. Other times these juxtapositions are just for aesthetic purposes. I almost always include a palm tree of some kind, and a volcano. These elements to me add a sense of heat, tropics, a hint at a warmed-up climate, and certainly, in the case of a smoking volcano, a sense of imminent destruction, but also intense spectacle.


My endeavour is to create a beautiful sense of mystery, or perhaps even unease, and portray a world that we may want to inhabit, even if it looks different from what we imagine. I want my work to not appear dystopian, but filled with hope for all that inhabit our world and curiosity for how it all may evolve to find new ways of coexistence.

I don’t know if it’s a world I would necessarily want to live in. It might be too late for us! I try to include lots of ‘natural’ things that I find more interesting and beautiful than man-made things, so I think I am ultimately depicting hope. Artist Robert Crumb made a print in the late 1970s called “A Short History of America” which depicted a patch of trees slowly turning into a house, then several houses and a railway line, a street, cars and gas stations, and so on. He recently updated it with three possible outcomes: a dead, burned-to-a-crisp planet, a futuristic sci-fi world of flying cars and technology, and thirdly, an ‘ecotopia’ of lush trees, bicycles, and happy families. My work, I would say, is more inclined to lean towards hopes for an ‘ecotopia.’