The Art of Fred Martin
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Fred Martin
A Retrospective, 1948-2003
Catalog illustrations with commentaries...
 Catalog nos. 1-26

Click for
Catalog nos. 30-54
Catalog nos. 55-63
Catalog nos. 65-77
Catalog nos. 78-115
Catalog nos. 119-137
 


 

Cat. no. 1.  Sunrise.  Spring 1948. 
Oil on Masonite, 20 x 24 in.
I thought once there was a necklace in eternity, and our lives the search for its stones fallen and scattered through time.  This painting is a rectangle showing a sunflower above and a starflower below.  It shows somehow also man on the left and woman on the right and in the center a binding of them together.  A mandala is a circle usually divided into four complementary/oppositional parts.  As if this painting were a mandala, there are here the union of earth and sky—and night and day—and male and female that is the whole of myself living in the world.  The painting is the oldest of my works to have survived—perhaps the first of the stones I may have found from the necklace in eternity.

 

 

Cat. no. 12.  Golden Gate at Laguna.  1957-58.
Oil on Masonite, 10 x 14 in.
Collection Oakland Museum of California.
For a few autumn months in 1949, I rode the streetcar to work each evening (my shift was 6pm-2am).  One evening I looked at the orange transfer in my hand, remembered a picture of a Tang Dynasty Apple Blossom Vase I had seen, thought of the art I hoped to make and wrote in the back of the book I was reading—“That this light which once so fell should ever so fall, even unto the final dust.”  Ten years later, I painted the decrepit shells of rotting timbers and peeling plaster that were the old houses and apartments in the Western addition of San Francisco.  I painted on the spot the way I thought Corot had made Roman sketches to use in the studio back in Paris, but I was making Western Addition paintings of the ruin in myself.  Corot’s paintings were souvenirs—to “come again”—of Rome; mine were the dying light of the rotting city of my soul.

 

 

Cat. no. 13c. “And in the morning…”  1957-8.  Texture paint on paper, 8¼ x 12 in.
A place gets into me and I paint it, but after a while there are too many associations—words, textures, objects, sounds, presences—for a picture to satisfy them.  While I was painting pictures of the rotting mansions of the Western Addition, we were living in Oakland in a house as decrepit as any in San Francisco.  I tried to hide the cracks in our house with a paste called “texture.”  And soon enough, “texture” became a paint transmuted into the dirt and dust of the gutters and abandoned street corners of the Western Addition—“the aurum nostrum of our dying day” smeared here on art history (The Art Bulletin) with the knowledge that “in the morning and the noon will I hunger while in the night I go insatiate.”

 

 

Cat. no. 14a.  From the series “Do you know my name?”  1958. 
Watercolor, gouache, pencil, and collage on paper, 12 x 9 in.
After a time I gave up pictures of places and the textures of dusts that were the dark mirrors of me.  To transform, that would be what I would try to do.  I had been reading Jung for years, and even before Sunrise (cat. no. 1 above), I had wandered in art into what he called “active imagination.”  I asked, “Do you know my name?” and set out in a quickly evolving series of painting-collages to find out what my name might be.  Jung would have called it Self, someone else might call it soul, but I think it’s what the Greeks called Daimon.  I did not find my name, but I did receive “I am the purity and special perfection of them all” (cat. no. 14c)  It was not my name but an image of art to live by.

 

 

 

 

Cat. no. 18.  Goodbye, Betty Mae.  1959.  Watercolor, gouache, pencil, and collage on paper, 9 x 12 in.
Every night after work and family, I went to the studio to make collages.  Lots of collages, 9 x 12 inch sheet after sheet to show and develop the images churning in my head.  Whatever concerned me, I made a collage—and then, because the churning was still there, I made another collage, and another, and another.  Between 1958 and the early 1960s, I made around three thousand of them.  One of the churnings was about loss, my fear as an individual to be lost in the entropic dust of the forgotten dead.  Betty Mae was one of those lost.  One night I made this collage in her memory “…on down to nothing with you now.”  I guess that in order to save me, I gave to her what I feared for me.  However, she was not, nor will I be spared “…on down to nothing with you now.”

 

 

 

Cat. no. 21.  Joey America.  1964. 
Watercolor, gouache, pencil, and collage on paper, 18 x 18 in.  Collection Oakland Museum of California
As the years 1961 through 1965 passed, the little collages grew into bigger ones.  Thoughts that grew over many collages now grew all through one collage.  And the churning concerns were, yes, still sex and death, but now in the form of family and the course of the generations.  I was “Joey America” (it was Pop Art time and names like that were in the air); my wife was “Venus Genetrix” (I had been reading about Rome and Virgil and his Georgics); and in my art I set out to build the Western Homestead of past and now and forever.  I was no longer a wanderer in the dying streets of a Western Addition; I had become the Good Husbandman of a homestead in Rainbow Land.  Stones from a necklace?  In these years I found and shaped the great shining medallion of the center, finally making it into the book
Beulah Land (see cat. no. 118, below).

 

 

Cat. no. 26.  From the Carpenter Series, Untitled.  1966-67.
Gouache with pastel on paper,  24 x 36 in.  Collection Oakland Museum of California.
In 1965-66, I did nothing but draw and etch that place I called Beulah Land. I wore out the imagery and my hands were cramped and my arms stiff as sticks.  What to do next?  On the long Labor Day weekend of 1966, I went to the studio and with the words from a then popular song—“If I were a carpenter, would you follow me anywhere, would you have my baby?”—set out to paint like a rough carpenter using his arms to hammer together the studs and rafters of a house… and to have whatever baby my art might give.  I made hundreds of these paintings.  The cannons of the phallus, the pyramids of Egypt as the granaries of Joseph (an old myth I had read), and the far mountains whence spring the four rivers of paradise (from a sixth century mosaic at Sts. Cosmas and Damiano in Rome).  Those mountains and rivers have stayed with me forever.

 

 

Click for
Catalog nos. 30-54
Catalog nos. 55-63
Catalog nos. 65-77
Catalog nos. 78-115
Catalog nos. 119-137