The Art of Fred Martin
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A selection of paintings, 1950-52.
Medium is indicated for each work.  However, because a number of these paintings are lost or destroyed, sizes are approximate.
Click here for a directory to all 1950's paintings

Scroll down for the paintings, click the image for a larger view.



Hesperian Fruit, 1951.
Pastel on paper, approx 18 x 20 in.
I married Jean Fisette in January of 1950 and by July it was clear we would have our first child sometime in March of 1951.  So, I could not be an artist, I had to find a reliable job.  My father gave us the money to live on while I got a teaching credential, and I worked in a book store during semester breaks.  I bought some soft pastels from the bookstore’s art supply department, and began to paint with pastels… this painting is among the first.  It was also the first where I tried to find a symbol—an emblem, a sign, a talisman—for woman as the origin of immortality.  This first time, it was to be pomegranates would be the symbol (because in those days when you bought pomegranates at the store they were often cracked and the shining seeds shone like jewels)—only thing was, I didn’t have any pomegranates to look at so these look more like tomatoes.  And, I got that cad red light sun at the top of the painting—both its color and its shape—from Franz Marc’s Mountain Landscape at SFMOMA.


Homage to Kandinsky, 1950-51.
Oil on canvas, approx. 20 x 30 in.
Kandinsky was very important to me then and now (beginning when I bought the 1946 Guggenheim Museum edition of his On the Spiritual in Art in 1947).  Sometime in 1950-51 I made this painting as an Homage to Kandinsky.  I did not think of the painting as an homage to Kandinsky when I made it, but only as a painting I liked and that somehow reminded me of him.  I never made another painting like it, though I have kept at making luminous horizons ever since.  The painting’s survival after I made it indicates more that I never thought about the painting at all than it does I thought it was a masterpiece…it wasn’t.  But, when I began to go through old work in preparation for my 2003 Oakland Museum Retrospective and found the painting where it had been left forgotten for most of half a century, I kept it and photographed it as a messenger from times that will not return


Apocalyptic Doings, 1950.
Oil on canvas, approx. 30 x 24 in.
I remember few of my paintings from the early 1950's, and even fewer remain in fact--and of all but two, the factual remainders are only slides..  Of the slides there remains Apocalyptic Doings (what a lame title).  We were into thick paint in those days, and our thick paint wrinkled like shriveled orange peel.  The apocalypse was a self-portrait of my face and chest -- or was it my -- what do you call the person who inducts you into the priesthood, into the knighthood and fellowship of the Holy Grail?  And in the distance, he stands before me with blazing white wings as I kneel and he touches my shoulder... 

Where do these images come from?  Was (am) I the only one who finds lying on the path of life such pictures of a high -- and megalomaniacal -- destiny?  I look around me at what young artists make today, and I am sure that they are as I was, in search of a purpose for hope and a release from pain. 

I joined Artists Equity... it would do for artists what Actors Equity did for actors, what the Musicians Union did for musicians.  Artists Equity's big project was a slide registry of members; we each had two slides.  My only record of Apocalyptic Doings is the slide the Artist Equity photographer made that I still have, and my memory for ever of the big night in the SMOMA when all the slides were shown.  The woman in charge read the artist and title of each.  "Fred Martin, Apocalyptic Doings," she said and there large on the screen was my knighthood by the blazing angel of the apocalypse.  No one else saw or knew what I saw and knew.  I felt only a lot like a fool.


Untitled, Spring 1950.
Collage of tempera on newsprint, approx 24 x 18 in.
Jean and I were only a few months married, living in a rented room with a gas hotplate on Benvenue Avenue in Berkeley.  I no longer lived at home so could not paint there, and had been rejected for the UC Berkeley Art Department MA Program so could no longer paint there. We had to have a studio, and Sam Francis found one for himself and us--the top floor of a long abandoned dairy south of campus.  We worked there for several months, Jean making a very large oil painting of an old ferry boat, Sam making I don't know what (I never saw him work there), and me making collage work in poster paint (nowadays we call it tempera) and newspapers.

This is one of my paintings from then, a survivor now only in a very underexposed and out of focus slide.  I remember the painting mostly because I had submitted it to the Drawing, Watercolor and Print Annual Exhibition at the SFMOMA and been rejected--not because it was a painting (it's black and white on paper isn't it?  What more do you want?) but because the jury thought it--and, of course, It was Me--was no damned good.

I remember the opening, walking through the crowded gallery and seeing Ernest Briggs and his drawing that was not unlike mine.  Briggs was then a super-hotshot returned vet student at SFAI, and he was in and I was out.  I was devastated.

I remember the opening and Briggs and his drawing; but what I remember most was how afterward I drove Jean and me through the old, old, dark, dark warehouse/wharf districts of San Francisco... those places, those darknesses, were me.  Now Briggs is gone and so are the warehouses, Briggs to I know not where and the warehouses to high rise condominiums and the world headquarters of Gap clothes.  In 1950, if I wanted to get at the deepest roots of ambition and despair, apocalypse and transcendence, this was a place.  Now, other kinds of people find other purposes there.


Moonlight, Spring 1950.
Collage of tempera on newsprint, approx 24 x 18 in.
We were still living on Benevenue and painting in the old dairy.  There was a street named Forest near our  leading up toward a grove of Eucalyptus.  One night Jean and I were walking up the street.  It was full moon.  I saw the moon through the Eucalyptus.  It was beautiful and terrifying.  I made this.

Perhaps the most powerful--and certainly the most important in my memory--of the works I made in the old dairy survives neither as slide nor in fact.  It was a construction--again, called "drawing"--Reflections on Sin, Pain, Hope and the True Way.

 It was destroyed a few months after it was made... did not, in fact, survive our moving out of the old dairy because Sam decided to take his GI Bill and study in Paris.

I had begun the habit of writing as a way of saying and understanding the situation in my soul and its condition of "Sin, Pain, Hope [and hunger for] the True Way"--a phrase I had picked up from Kafka. I had found in the back of the dairy a large, compartmented crate for holding the big cans of milk as it comes from the milking shed and before it is bottled. I made a construction by covering the crate inside and out with old newspapers and then painting them white with abstract calligraphy in black. I called it Sin, Pain, Hope and the True Way, and entered it into the San Francisco Art Association Annual Exhibition of Drawings and Watercolors at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Although such objects were then most uncommon (especially as "drawings"), it was accepted into the exhibition. The critic for the Oakland Tribune concluded a review of the show with "and then there rose before me something called Sin, Pain Hope and the True Way. I ran for the way out."


Oceanic, Summer 1950.
Oil on canvas with paper collage, approx. 72 x 48 in.

One painting that summer of 1950 I thought of as "Oceanic" in scale.  I had followed in my musical tastes the development of 19th-century German classical music out from Mahler, both back to Bruckner and forward to Schoenberg, and in the vastness of Bruckner's sound -- what I think of now (I have not listened for 40 years) as his "oceanic" chords, felt I found someplace to find peace... that is to say, somehow an expansion beyond my perpetual straight-jacket of sexual guilt.  So, anyway, I made in the Studio Gallery days of the spring of 1950 a big "oceanic" painting.  Much larger than the Oceanic I made three years later at Maxwell, and not ocean blue as in the painting at Maxwell, but sunset oranges and browns and reds.




TSaint, Summer 1950
Oil on canvas, approx. 72 x 48 in.

The other big painting that summer was a Saint, an archbishop or at least some kind of holy figure... an enormous brown-blue textured plane like a monk's robe, and holding a staff marked at the top with the symbol of... what?  Nothing, just a mark.  (David Park: "If you can't figure out what to do, decide which part is best and paint out the rest.)  The monk's robe was what the rest had been; the symbol was what had been the only part I liked.  And it was small.




Mount Tamalpais I, 1950
Oil on canvas, approx. 36 x 48 in.
There was another painting that summer, the memory of Jean's and my hiking day on Mount Tamalpais.  It was before we had the car, must have been late spring or early summer.  We took the bus to San Francisco, then the Greyhound to Stinson Beach, getting off at Mountain Home.  We had climbed the trail to the summit, then realized that we might miss the only bus back to San Francisco, then rushed down through the chaparral (forget the trail, too roundabout) in time to catch the bus home.  That day survived for a while as this painting, 1950 Mount Tamalpais I, oil on canvas.  I am not sure of its size, seems to me it was about four feet high by about five and one half feet wide.  



Mount Tamalpais II, 1950.
Oil on Canvas, approx. 36 x 48 in.
Then, perhaps a month or two later came 1950 Mount Tamalpais II which was repainted a year later as 1951, In the Big Sur in memory of Jean's and my and infant Demian's camping trip to Big Sur in the summer of 1951.  (Click here for information about that.)





Flowers for the Grave of a Dead Dog, 1951.
Pastel on paper, 25 x 19 in.
Click here for more information about this painting

This Flowers for the Grave of a Dead Dog is the only other surviving pastel from the early 1950's.  During the first year we lived on College Avenue, we got a dog and a cat.  The cat we called Anaximander after the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, and the dog was Aphrodite.  We had the dog hardly a few months when she ran into the street and was killed.  I made this for her.

I entered the painting in the Richmond Art Center Annual that year and was accepted.  Erle Loran saw the painting there and afterward complimented me for it.  I had been accepted both at Richmond and by the Berkeley Academy.  I was proud.


There were two other pastels I made then.  A young man of my age had been arrested for raping and murdering a young girl.  They caught him when they found her panties in the dark, dirt basement of the house where he lived with his parents.  His picture was in the paper, gaunt, tormented, guilt beyond guilt for sexual crime.  A friend of mine said he had known the rapist/murderer when they were in school together.  I looked at the picture in the paper, and, as in every work of art that moves me, saw myself.

First, I made a pastel of his face with the city behind.  I made in on brown wrapping paper (we had a lot of it on hand); fixed it--and discovered that fixing soft pastels on a dark ground destroys them, especially if you use Krylon Gloss.  Then, I tried it again, this time intending to enter the painting in the upcoming Annual Exhibition of Drawing, Prints and Watercolors at the SFMOMA, and so including only the city--avoid the terrible truth of my own cursed face in a work intended for public display. 

The painting was rejected and I determined never to enter another juried show until I could be absolutely certain of the power of my work in the face of every obstacle.


By the spring of 1952, my artistic efforts went into writing, urged by a course in expository writing I was taking in order to get my teaching credential and a job.  Out of that came my 1951-2 Stories.  Click here for the stories.


Click here for 1953-54 Abstract and Figure Paintings.