“In America this idea of freedom means I can have any ice cream I want.”
Although designated primarily as an abstract painter, the American artist Chris Martin’s work incorporates the landscape and the figurative in his attempts to communicate the energy of his life experiences.
As he told the Brooklyn Rail in a conversation with Craig Olsen “The actual performing of a painting involves giving oneself over to a series of actions and trusting in the body and what the body knows. And when I step back to look at this thing, I’m still trying to figure it out just like everybody else.”
Martin was in his early teens when he determined to become a painter.
“I actually decided that I was an artist, at age fourteen, while listening to James Brown. I was drinking Coca-Cola, high on sugar, listening to James Brown’s “Mashed Potato Popcorn,” and painting these bad Picasso paintings. I remember just knowing— “Oh this is it,” he said.
In the mid 1970’s Martin dropped out of Yale where he was studying painting and touch football and went to New York to paint. He sustained himself through odd jobs during the 1980’s.
As he explained “I was a guard at the Guggenheim, I unloaded trucks, worked for art movers, did part-time jobs through the ‘80’s. In 1983 I took a trip to Asia and married Karin Gustafson in Thailand. India had a huge influence on me. We came back and bought a building in Brooklyn in 1984. Our daughters were born in 1986 and 1989. I started selling paintings but then the art world crashed in the early 1990’s. I went back to the School of Visual Arts and got a college degree in art therapy. I got a job at an AIDS day treatment program in Chelsea—and I did that work for about fifteen years—in Harlem, Red Hook, and at Rivington House on the Lower East Side… It certainly gave me a perspective on what I thought were my problems. I had all this education, I knew all this stuff about painting. I began to question whether any of that was really so important... There is no intrinsic value in painting. It’s never valuable because it’s well made, or because it’s beautiful like fine furniture. The only true value is communication. If it transmits energy, then it serves its purpose.”
A view point Martin elaborated upon with The Believer’s Ross Simonini “All the children of America, up to age seven or eight or nine or ten—they’re really great artists. So here we’ve got this amazing work that very few people pay any attention to, and it’s not valued by the culture. In fact, one of the great dismissive lines by popular culture on painting is “My kid can do that.” And of course the truth is their kid could do that, but could they do that? Their kid’s a genius! They’re the ones stuck in some uptight vision of they can’t do it. And so one sees examples of paintings that we don’t understand, a wild energy or freedom. We see it all the time, looking at paintings that you find on the sidewalk, half-finished paintings, thrown-out paintings. You could buy paintings online made by elephants these days. And elephants are pretty good painters. So if an elephant can make a good painting, then who needs an MFA from Yale? I mean, maybe we should start accepting elephants into graduate school.”
Martin’s current exhibition Saturn Returns is on show at Los Angeles’ David Kordansky Gallery until the 21st of May.