Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Artist Uncovered: Paul Martin

Of beeswax and metaphysics

Earlier this year, Art in Healthcare were delighted to welcome in their Collection two paintings by Paul Martin, one of the leading exponents of encaustic art today. In this process the artist mixes pure pigments with melted beeswax over many layers often resulting in dreamlike paintings with a matt and subtle finish.

 Repapering  oil, encaustic,149x180cm
AiH Collection

Encaustic is about experimenting with natural ingredients and can be traced back to antiquity. This suits Paul Martin very well for here is an artist who is profoundly inspired by nature and favours continuity and authenticity over shock of the new.
The two paintings, ‘Repapering’ and ‘The Sculptor in his Studio’ which both date back to the 1980s, are figurative works with similar tones and aesthetics. Their titles evoke ordinary activities but the unrealistic and staged feel of their compositions suggest metaphors instead. They tease the viewers with a myriad of questions.

The Sculptor’s Studio  oil, encaustic,146x192cm
AiH Collection

In Repapering, why is the father’s head out of sight? What is the mother doing in the background? What is the flowery pattern on the ripped wallpaper telling us? Is the child playing with a mirror? Is it a mirror? What is a mirror? 

In The Sculptor’s Studio, what is this broken circle the artist is holding in his right hand? Is it a tool? Is it an allusion to the mirror in the other painting? Are the square and triangular patterns on the floor some mathematical puzzles? Who are the sculpted figures? 

4 , 'Inscapes' series
image courtesy of the artist

By setting these paintings like theatrical tableaux the artist wishes to open up these fundamental questions. And of course there are no right or wrong answers, just wide ranging possibilities. For instance in Repapering, some viewers might see a resemblance between the sculptor and Socrates, the founder of Western philosophy and between the bust being created and Socrates’ ‘spiritual son’, Immanuel Kant. And is it purely coincidental that Socrates is credited with a particular method of enquiry known as Socratic Circles?

Crossing the Yellow River (detail, right panel) oil, encaustic, 215x157cm
image courtesy of the artist

Paul Martin’s disposition for debate was honed through discussions with his tutors and peers first at the Birmingham School of Art, a strong advocate of Abstract Expressionism, and later at the Royal Academy, a calculated choice that brought him back to figurative drawing.  Then teaching came naturally to him as something that “he could not not do” but he kept up his own painting practice in parallel with his teaching career through the years and found that this dual focus benefited both his work and his students.

Song Upon Song Upon Song varnishes, gesso, ink on paper, 201x78x62cm
image courtesy of the artist

The sixty-seven works in his recent exhibition 'When Men and Mountains Meet' at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh were painted over the last seven years. The style has changed since the 1980s. Now vigorous and expressionist marks fill up large canvasses sometime inhabited by outlined figures whose beautiful faces peer quizzically beyond the canvas. The painted surface is more gritty and organic but it is still sealed with wax which, says Martin, “metaphysically bonds” us all together with nature.

Race oil, encaustic, mixed media
image courtesy of the artist

The artist stresses that the concerns are the same today as twenty five years ago. The exhibition also acknowledges his reading of ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’ by Rainer Maria Rilke that has taken his investigation into the nature of nature into new directions. References to bird songs and flowing arias remind us that humanity should respect nature which is to be enjoyed by all living organisms.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

With thanks to Paul Martin

For further information:
Paul Martin's website:
Paul Martin's exhibition 'When Men and Mountains Meet'!exhibition/cnnt
Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh
Warburton Gallery!when-men-and-mountains-meet/c12l0

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.

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