PER­FOR­MA­TIVE PAINT­INGS

JA­SON MARTIN walks so­nia kolesnikov-jes­sop through his moves as he paints sculp­tures and sculpts paint

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Ja­son Martin paints sculp­tures and sculpts paint

while Ja­son Martin has cho­sen paint and pig­ments to ex­press his cre­ativ­ity, his ap­proach to the pro­duc­tion of his art is more akin to a con­tem­po­rary dancer mov­ing across a can­vas. In an­other life, the Bri­tish artist might have been a chore­og­ra­pher.

For over 25 years, Martin has been pri­mar­ily in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing the ma­te­ri­al­ity of paint and the phys­i­cal ac­tion of paint­ing, and sees his paint­ing “as a chore­og­ra­phy or se­ries of move­ments that can never be danced again quite the same way”. Although his works are ab­stract, they can also be de­scribed as painted land­scapes, as they take view­ers on a jour­ney of the artist’s con­tin­u­ous move­ments frozen in time and space.

His aim, he says, is in fur­ther­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties within the tra­di­tion of ab­strac­tion, to find “new ap­proaches emp­ty­ing out more fa­mil­iar no­tions of how to paint and de­vel­op­ing a re­duced and es­sen­tial per­son­alised lan­guage”.

His style has evolved over the years, but he re­mains mostly known for large monochro­matic art­works laden with oil or acrylic gel that have been richly tex­tured with the help of comb-like brushes or card­board pieces that he uses to move the paint.

The artist came to the at­ten­tion of a wider pub­lic through the now leg­endary group ex­hi­bi­tion Sen­sa­tion at the Royal Academy of Arts in Lon­don in 1997. It marked the birth of the term Young Bri­tish Artists and YBA has since be­come a trade­mark of in­no­va­tive Bri­tish art. “He has an ex­tra­or­di­nary feel­ing of ma­te­ri­al­ity, struc­ture and monochro­matic colour which is deeply an­chored in the mod­ernist tra­di­tion of paint­ing, with its ap­pre­ci­a­tion of pro­ces­sual, per­for­ma­tive and ges­tu­ral as­pects,” re­marks Thad­daeus Ropac of Ga­lerie Thad­daeus Ropac.

Un­lock­ing the Paint­ing

Martin’s dy­namic move­ments — at times slow and sweep­ing, at oth­ers swift with abrupt halts — are the main sub­ject of his works and he de­scribes the com­po­si­tion as “un­in­ter­rupted in a se­ries of move­ments, and un­der­stand­ing that chore­og­ra­phy is un­lock­ing the paint­ing”.

“I be­lieve the most in­ter­est­ing ab­strac­tion has a source of fig­u­ra­tion and my ap­proach is that there is a warmth in fig­u­ra­tion that I try to bring to the move­ment,” Martin says.

Trained as a painter at the Chelsea Col­lege of Arts and Gold­smiths, Univer­sity of Lon­don, Martin says he was in­flu­enced early on by a work of the Amer­i­can ab­stract painter Robert Ry­man, a se­ries of white stripes painted with a very large brush that he saw at the Tate Mod­ern gallery. “This work showed a com­bi­na­tion of brush marks with the sug­ges­tion that they were seam­less, that there was an un­in­ter­rupted move­ment, a sin­gle sweep. I started to won­der how I could elab­o­rate on that and take it fur­ther, creat­ing a sin­gle brush mark,” he re­calls.

Martin started us­ing large brushes, adapt­ing them to his own needs, bend­ing them, break­ing them up and re­assem­bling them us­ing a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als, “ba­si­cally what­ever I found in the stu­dio that would de­liver some new ex­ten­sion to my move­ment,” he says.

His tech­nique re­quires him to work rapidly, as oil will harden af­ter a pe­riod in which case “you can’t move around at the speed or the pace where you are go­ing to get the re­sult you want.” Be­cause his work is very phys­i­cal, he also needs a sur­face strong enough to “pun­ish” with­out wor­ry­ing about dam­ag­ing the can­vas. Alu­minium, stain­less steel or Per­spex is thus used as a sup­port. “I wouldn’t be able to achieve the same ef­fect if I used can­vas.”

Added Di­men­sion

Martin has al­ways been in­ter­ested in push­ing the lim­its of his ma­te­ri­als. Hav­ing first worked with oil on a wall, he pro­gressed to his stu­dio floor, lay­er­ing buck­ets of acrylic paste on his sup­port and then mould­ing the thick sur­face with his hands or tools, in ef­fect “sculpt­ing” his paint­ings and trans­form­ing the paste into per­for­ma­tive vol­ume.

Only af­ter let­ting the rugged land­scapes dry for a month would he choose the pure pig­ment colour he then sprayed in lay­ers to bring out the de­sired colour sat­u­ra­tion. The lengthy process gives the works a min­eral tex­ture that ac­cen­tu­ates the mounds, ridges and crevasses he cre­ated. The artist notes that while the oils tend to re­flect light, pig­ments ab­sorb it, creat­ing a dif­fer­ent vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence.

Martin con­tin­ued his ex­plo­ration of 2D per­spec­tives and be­gan to so­lid­ify his thick im­pasto marks in a se­ries of small casts (nickel, cop­per, bronze) in the man­ner of tra­di­tional 3D bronze sculp­tures or stat­ues. The cast cre­ates the im­pres­sion “that the ma­te­rial has come to­gether al­most in an un­in­ter­rupted time and move­ment, but the qual­ity of how that flat ground meets the edge is what cre­ates that il­lu­sion”. The small for­mats pose no less chal­leng­ing de­mands than works on a large scale, he adds, as they are more in­ten­sive and crit­i­cally pre­cise to cre­ate.

Af­ter a self-im­posed 3-year hia­tus from oil paint­ing, dur­ing which he fo­cused on mixed me­dia, Martin has re­turned to oil us­ing a more min­i­mal­ist ges­ture, aim­ing to re­duce brush strokes to the least. In­stead of large brushes he opted for hand-held brushes again. This helped him re­con­nect with the raw as­pect of paint­ing.

Next month, Martin will present the re­sult of a re­cent res­i­dency at the STPI — Cre­ative Work­shop & Gallery, where he de­vel­oped a se­ries of works us­ing pa­per casts, pulp and dry point. “The ex­per­i­men­tal na­ture of the work­shop af­forded me a free­dom to ex­plore ma­te­ri­als in ex­cit­ing new ways. The ex­hi­bi­tion will hope­fully re­veal sur­prises in how ma­te­ri­als can be trans­for­ma­tive,” he says. “The works as a whole en­deav­our to hold some mys­ter­ies ques­tion­ing the na­ture of their ma­te­ri­als and how they have come into be­ing.”

“If my over­all stu­dio prac­tice can be un­der­stood as de­vel­op­ing a pic­to­rial lan­guage, my col­lab­o­ra­tion with STPI takes me on an R&D tour of the gram­mar in­her­ent to that lan­guage,” he concludes.

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