319 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11211
September 17 – October 24, 2005
Art belongs to everyone. So Chris Martin has it at his current show at Sideshow. Or should I say around Sideshow. The first thing one notices on the approach is one of Martin’s signature abstractions looming large in black and red on the gallery’s adjacent brick wall. Closer still, one sees the façade of the building opposite peppered with Martin’s work. It seems perfectly at home framed by boarded windows and a wrought iron fire escape. After that, it comes as no surprise to enter Spoonbill bookshop down the street and run smack into another Martin installed between bookshelves for the occasion. He leaves his work out there, vulnerable as could be, as seemingly unconcerned about a drawing exposed to the elements as about careless passers-by and their fast fingers. Martin’s message is clear: art is meant for the streets and its inhabitants. It’s not a commercial object, but a most intimate effort at communication aimed at the broadest possible audience.
Intimacy on a grand scale – it sounds like a contradiction in terms. Mark Rothko was a master of it. He had an ability to infuse giant swaths of canvas with the most delicate feeling. It’s this that has drawn so many to his canvases over the years. In Sideshow’s front room, Martin shows himself in some measure possessed of this quality prominent in Rothko and present throughout the New York School. The one huge painting in the room is not intimidating but inviting. At 10 by 23 feet, its forms are generously hewn in black and white. They stretch with the painting’s length – lozenges punctuated by dots at three foot intervals and rectangles supporting and enclosing the lozenges. The seams of Martin’s signature drop cloth canvas contribute to the composition beneath the cake of paint. Across the room there’s a plush armchair and couch inviting the weary viewer to rest while they look. Judging by the fractious energy with which each inch of this mammoth painting is cut, Martin himself has rested little.
The painting is of a simplicity that often provokes those unfamiliar with art to balk though even the uninitiated must recognize that, by virtue of his sheer ambition, Martin is in earnest. Abstraction is a form often noted for its impenetrability. People wonder why artists would make things so hard to understand. From the painter’s perspective, it’s the other way around – their painting is clarity itself; a means by which the world is brought into focus. Martin’s forms have the feel of condensed experience, the mystical clairvoyance of things seen in great breadth and reduced to comprehensible order.
Martin appears to have installed a good portion of his studio in Sideshow’s rear room. Beside magazine clippings, old photographs, and student drawings hangs work by many of today’s finest painters. The artist is giving us his history. Three painters I imagine he’d have there if he could are Albert Pinkham Ryder, Ralph Blakelock and Forest Bess. Though their scale is Martin’s obverse, these painters make similar use of focused form to transcribe experience. Their painting reveals how distortion of observed form is sometimes essential to fully communicate one’s feeling before nature. Martin is only a small step further toward abstraction, a step akin to that taken by the New York school more than half a century ago. His staunch determination that his paintings be seen as a part of the world that is their subject is a stance I imagine this latter group would admire.