Influenced by the Greats
French artist Paul Cezanne once remarked, "One does not replace the past; one only provides a further link to it."
A revolutionary figure in the art world during the early 20th Century, Cezanne knew a thing or two about respecting the great Impressionists who influenced him while still forging ahead with his unique style that paved the way for Modernism.
Taking a look around the enjoyable new solo exhibition of Los Angeles-based artist America Martin at Wally Workman Gallery, you'll see a similar unapologetic homage to the confident contemporary artist's influential teachers like Gauguin, Rothko, Picasso and, yes, Cezanne.
In her latest series of exuberant paintings and smaller pastel studies, Martin presents her colorful large-scale works that perfectly exemplify her personal voice as an artist. "This show is sort of a holiday for me," the breezy, energetic artist offers amidst her work. "When [the gallery] invited me to come back and do this show, they told me I could show whatever I wanted. And I find inspiration in people, specifically in musicians and women, so that's what I did."
In her latest series of exuberant paintings and smaller pastel studies, Martin presents her colorful large-scale works that perfectly exemplify her personal voice as an artist.
Just as she describes, her figures are robust outlines over lush backgrounds, curvy models filling canvases with feet and elbows and bellies like the women of Gauguin's islands. There is something sexy and powerful in the confidence of their black-lined contours.
The bold contours are occasionally interrupted with additional set pieces and bold color blocks that establish helpful cues to the viewer regarding depth and foreground. Flowers, fruits, instruments and birds provide additional whimsy to the figures' sensuously angled forms. "I actually added some of the birds in this show as little jokes to myself," she reveals. 'They're like lollipops for myself, because they add color and playfulness to the forms."
Contrary to popular belief, not all artists are loners; and for an extrovert like Martin, human interaction is paramount to her process. After being alone in her studio for days at a time, with nothing but audio books and music for company, she says she requires significant immersion in the rest of the world to recharge her artistic battery. "Being alone in a studio is definitely great and productive for me," she states, "but I paint people, so I need to see people."
Her paintings do, however, provide the artist with a satisfying amount of dialog in the studio. "I really believe in the mythological concept of the Muse. I'll stare at a raw canvas and ask, 'Who are you? Show yourself!' And then I'll wait and listen for it to speak to me before I start," she says.
Once she can see the finished project in her head, the rest of the process is about honoring that initial revelation. "I'm filling in the blanks, really. It's kind of like cheating," she laughs. "But that's when it really works best for me."
Martin starts every painting with her signature vibrant color blocking, feeling out the right mix of shades to balance the painting and draw the eye across the canvas. These blocks provide context to the eventual figure that will be placed over them, so they have to be precise. She continues her dialog with the canvas, realizing the revisions that will make it ready for the next step.
Contrary to popular belief, not all artists are loners; and for an extrovert like Martin, human interaction is paramount to her process.
When it is time, she uses glossy oil paint to make the confident, clean lines that create those striking modern figures that convey the artist's deliberate point of view.
Because she works on several paintings at once, it can take Martin months to decide she is finally done with a given painting. "Just as with people, sometimes I'm having one detailed talk in one moment, and other times I like to come back and touch back on the conversation again and again," she says. "It's the same with painting."
Upon close inspection, a viewer might notice Martin's "secret dots," tiny blips of color that populate her canvases as embellishment, the way a single loose tendril might complete a fierce updo. "It's how I finish things; just that little touch of extra something," she says.
With clear ties to her past evidenced in her body of work, Martin has begun venturing into further mediums. Outside on the Wally Workman lawn, you can see one of Martin's sculptures, also depicting — you guessed it — a woman and a bird. For her upcoming show in L.A., she will also incorporate video to juxtapose the figures of her paintings in action with her captured renditions of them.
"There is no place to be scared with art," the sunny young painter declares. "You create the boundaries, so you might as well enjoy what you're doing and continue moving forward. I want to keep growing."
Wally Workman Gallery hosts an opening reception for America Martin's solo exhibition on Saturday from 6 - 9 p.m. Exhibition runs May 5 - 26.