Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Donald Martiny - Artist Feature

My interest lies in freeing the gesture from the traditional rectangular shaped support and exploring its potential. Rather than having a painting full of gestures, the gesture itself becomes the painting.
-Donald Martiny

After years of formal study and artistic experimentation, Donald Martiny has created a new medium which successfully challenges our understanding of what is classified as a painting. Having removed the constraints of working on canvas, his free-form paintings encompass gesture, color, and texture, while creating a dialogue within the space in which they are exhibited.   Each of Martiny’s works are auto-biographical as they reflect both his physicality while creating the work, and are also titled with the names of places that have special meaning to him throughout his life.

Please read on for an inside look into the man behind these expressive paintings, as the artist himself offers insight into his process, influences, and inspiration.

How old were you when you decided to be an artist?
Martiny: I decided early on that art was what I wanted to do. I remember when I was five or six years old someone gave me an art instruction kit.  It had a few pencils and a little book on how to draw and paint.  I made copies of the drawings in the book and went around the neighborhood selling them.  A kind neighbor bought a few of them for five cents. Then when I was in the 7th grade I made a series of prints based on drawings I had made of sculptures by Wilhelm Lehmbruck . I took them to a gallery in Saugatuck, a nearby town, and they said, “bring us more of these”. So I had some positive reinforcement early on.

How did your art career start?
Martiny: Frank Stella said in his lecture at the Pratt Institute “there are two problems in painting, one is to find out what a painting is, the other is to find out how to make a painting”.  He is absolutely right and I was determined to learn.  When I was 22, I moved to NYC, with the idea that I’d spend as much time as I could looking at art and learning how to make art.  The first thing I did was I enrolled in classes at the Art Students League where I studied in the academic tradition: anatomy, drawing and oil painting from the figure.  In addition to that I made copies of old master and modern works that I saw in the museums.  One day I attempted to copy a painting by William de Kooning. That was eye opening.  It was far more difficult to copy than I thought it would be.  I was amazed to learn that every gesture, every brush stroke had a job to do. 
The gestures appeared to me to be as dynamic and kinetic as any dance performance.  The application of the paint looked like it was done quickly and freely. He made it look effortless like a talented trapeze artist, but it is not easy.
I made many de Kooning -style paintings and in that process, thought a lot about structure.  I gradually became aware that I was struggling unsuccessfully to resolve the corners and edges of the canvas. I found myself filling in areas around the important gestures, which diminished their strength and integrity. Those limitations began to feel to me like restrictive compromises.   At the same time, I chaffed at the idea of the rectangular shape because of its historical reference to a door or window.  These issues and dynamics are what motivated me to find a new way to experiment with the possibility of shaping my support, or even jettisoning the support altogether.
I knew I needed to find a way to completely free the painting from the ground. 

Who do you think was most influential on your work?
Martiny: When I was in my 20s I worked at Doubleday's bookstore on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in New York.  I managed the art book department there. A lot of artists used to come and talk with me there because they knew I would do everything I could to get books they wanted even if they were out of print. Among the many artists that visited was Ellsworth Kelly. He was surprisingly generous with his time and patiently answered my questions. Although it was a brief meeting, it was galvanizing because I already revered his work. To quote Kelly, “The form of my work is the content.”   What he was doing was so different and fresh.  His paintings involve the space around them. Unlike traditional rectangular, framed paintings that work more like windows and point in, Kelly’s work is collaborative with everything around it.  They point out.

Can you describe your process and medium?

My process has evolved quite a bit. When I first considered the idea of working freely with forms in my paintings, I tried to use epoxy resins. I had experience working with fiberglass and resins from when I built boats as a summer job while I was in school near Lake Michigan.   

But the resins didn’t work. The paintings were prohibitively heavy and brittle and I couldn’t control the color. Additionally, the materials were hazardous. One time as I was mixing a large batch of resin, I put too much catalyst (MEK) into the mixture and nearly set my studio on fire.

I’ve spent several years talking with chemists all over the world and have made myself a pest with virtually every art materials manufacturer in trying to perfect my paint and process.
I can finally say that I am happy with the materials I am using now. They are safe, water based, light-weight, and I can do just about anything I want in terms of painting. 

In terms of process, I draw and sketch all the time.  I am constantly experimenting with gestures and forms, relationships and color. I usually make small paintings first. I think of them as finished paintings but they also inform the larger works. My large paintings are a huge investment in time, effort and materials.  Some of them consist of 10 to15 gallons of paint.

One part of my studio is set up much like an arena. I paint on the floor walking around the work. I often make brushes out of large floor mops or brooms. The act of painting is much like a dance.

While creating a large painting, I am stretched to the limits of my physicality. The act of painting records my reach at a specific time and place. I suppose one could say, in this way, that my paintings are self-portraits.

Can you describe your relationship with color?
Martiny: Color is both mystical and concrete.  I enjoy the duality between the spiritual search for a transcendental experience and my intent to emphasize the object as a concrete reality rather than an illusion.
My current work is essentially monochrome. I have been working that way because my desire is to create paintings that offer a powerful, unified experience.
By painting in monochrome I avoid creating optical illusions of depth or other illusionistic devices.
Finally, I am not interested in political or social meanings associated with color. 

Is there an influence of nature in your work?
Martiny: My studio has two walls that are pretty much all glass. In the morning and evening hours I can often see deer, eagles and owls. There is an abundance of natural light. These natural surroundings provide a stimulus for my work, however I do not imitate nature. My paintings are not “of” anything. They are inspired by movement, rhythm, time, changing light, color, and mood.

Do you associate memories with any of your works?
Martiny: Many physical memories are imbedded within the process of creating each and every painting.  The creation of each work offers a unique journey for me.  I would say I feel very intimate with these paintings. I definitely look at the paintings and go “oh, I remember that little drop right there”. I remember everything about the making of the paintings. As many as I have made and I can still look at an early work and go “oh, I remember that”. In fact the titles of my paintings up until now have been streets that I have lived or places that I used to visit a lot as a kid. All of the paintings, Drums Road, Chart Hill was the name of the pool that I learned how to swim in. They’re all places that are very important to me growing up. They are not meant to look like those places. Pigeon Lake is not a picture of a lake or the shape of the lake. It’s just something that is meaningful to me and it allows me to give them titles that are autobiographical.

To see his work go to our website or visit one of the Cavalier Galleries locations.
 GREENWICH 405 Greenwich Avenue•Greenwich, CT•06830• 203.869.3664 
NEW YORK 15 East 71st Street, Suite 2a•New York, NY• 10021 • 212.570.4696
NANTUCKET 34 Main Street • Nantucket, MA•02554 • 508.325.4405