We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Martin Son of the Universe, what me worry



Martin Bell


1978 –

  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    ink on BFK Rives paper
    56.0 x 76.0 cm each sheet; 280.0 x 1140.0 cm overall; (75 sheets configured in 5 rows of 15 sheets)
    Purchased with funds provided by the Dobell Biennial Acquisition fund and the Australian Prints, Drawings and Watercolours Collection Benefactors 2021
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Martin Bell

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Martin Bell

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Rich with nostalgic associations of a 1980s childhood, this epic drawing invites us into a tangled world of infinite narrative possibility. Images of toys and other mass-culture ephemera from Martin Bell’s ever-growing collection form rhythmic and pulsating patterns across the sheets of paper. The eye has little place to rest.

    This ambitious work was drawn by the artist on seventy-five sheets of paper over the course of a year, an enveloping installation that invites both immersion within a human-scaled world and close observation of mini-worlds within. The drawing is alive with tiny characters – from Gremlins, to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to the goofy mascot of Mad magazine, Alfred E Neumann, occupying structures like small forts or rhythmically patterned fields of space. These zig-zag patterns also serve as a unifying linking motif that holds the whole drawing together. Standing back, we can observe two mighty robot action heroes engaged in mortal combat and a BMX bicycle mid-flight in the air, inviting us to hop on and enter the work ourselves.

    Bell’s work stems from the preoccupations of his formative years – many of the toys are recognizable from the 1980s. His toy collection includes objects from his own childhood, as well as others he has collected in the decades since; its use as a subject in his work reflects the connection he feels with the people who previously owned the toys, which retain for him a sense of their history as objects, as well as what they signify of memory and shared experience. Bell asserts a level of auto-biography by including his name ‘MARTIN’ near the face of Alfred E Neumann, who acts as a cipher for the artist within the composition.

    Bell’s characters stand for timeless archetypes from storytelling traditions, reflecting how myth, religion and literature are continuously reinvented by succeeding generations, under new names. Through the processes of creative play, toys help children express the different roles and actions individuals take within stories, and in life. While play is most typically associated with childhood, it is comparable to the way in which adults also form narratives and structures to order and describe human behavior, and its shaping of personal, local and global events.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition

Other works by Martin Bell