The Art of Fred Martin
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A selection of paintings from
A Pre-established Harmony, 1974-5.
Unless otherwise noted, all paintings are soft pastel on matboard, 60 x 40  inches
Images marked
** are described in the catalog for my 2003 Retrospective at the Oakland Museum of California. 
Click the
** to go to the description.
Scroll down for the paintings, click the thumbnails for larger views.

In the old days, there was the idea of the wheel of fortune, that whoever was on top now would later be on the bottom (see Wheel of Fortune).  In 1973, I had a major retrospective at the SFMOMA (see Liber Studiorum), but by the time my show took place the Directorship of the museum had changed and mine was not the direction the new Director planned to go.  And no magazine put me on its cover, and no gallery rushed to sell my work.  My career as an artist was on the down side of the wheel.  And my other career, as the Director of the College of the San Francisco Art Institute?  During the ten years I had been Director, we had become the only fine arts school in the US; had started the only fine arts, “personal” film department in the US; had doubled the enrollment (from 500 to 1000) ; had built a new building to house it all and survived the Summer of Love and the crazy hippies and even Kent State.  And then in the spring of 1974 a new Board decided we needed a new direction, made me a Vice President and hired a new President whom I had known and detested for years.  I left SFAI in June 1975 to focus on nothing but my art… as if I were some kind of manufacturer hunkering down on a core business.

On May 17-18, 1974 (about the time the Board at SFAI had confirmed hiring the new president) I made a painting of the streaming of the senses in the aesthetic realms of Asia—I had already in the couple of years before learned how to show the images that filled my mind of “temples, tombs, palaces and fortresses” (see 1972-74 Travel Pastels).  These new paintings would be the pre-rational “undifferentiated aesthetic continuum” of Asia as I had learned in F.S.C. Northrop’s book The Meeting of East and West when I was a student at Berkeley.  The first of these “streaming” paintings (The Lilies of Shah Tahmasp) went great, the next two were adequate, the fourth (Afghanistan) was a disaster... and the more I worked on it the worse it was.

I finally saw that the reason the painting would not work was I had laid out the divisions of the composition (in this case, concentric circles) in advance without thinking of where they were in the format nor what the later consequences might be.  I remembered my teacher Glenn Wessels talking about Jay Hambidge and his Dynamic Symmetry; and I remembered James McCray talking about the Renaissance systems of division of the picture plane and how he had made Renaissance paintings become abstract by using the divisions but leaving out the objects in them.  I began to research what they had been talking about, found Hambidge and Tons Brunes’ Secrets of Ancient Geometry and Its Uses, and another book, John Michell’s The View Over Atlantis with a more mystical slant than Hamidge and Brunes.  Out of their work I began to invent my own geometrical mysticism of the squared circle, the golden section, the Fibonacci Series and a “pre-established harmony” to heal what I felt was the wreck of both my art and my job.

I seldom have insomnia, but I slept little in the last months of my time as once the Director of the College at SFAI but now Vice President for Academic Affairs.  One night I got up and went to the studio and made a Cosmos According to Timaeus—I had been reading of Plato’s account of Timaeus in Brunes’ book.  From then it was on to the planets and the temples and tombs of Asia as stairways to the stars.  I used the geometry for several years, analyzing my favorite paintings—Poussin’s Funeral of Phocian, Botticelli’s Primavera, and Watteau’s Embarcation for the secret philosophies hidden in their craftsman’s geometries—and building my own cosmic pre-established harmonies against what I had learned of the chaos and ruin of the world.




#1, 1974.
The Lilies of Shah Tahmasp.


#2b, 1974.

#3, 1974.


#4, 1974.
Shiraz, The Tomb of
Imam Zadeh Shah.


#14, 1974
A Ray of Light.

#15, 1974.
The Cosmos According to Timeaus.


#17, 1974.
The Planet Saturn.


#18, 1974.
The Planet Earth.

#19, 1974.
The Planet Mars.


** #20, 1974.
Venus, the Germ of Metal Star.


#21, 1974.
The Conjunction of Jupiter and Uranus.

#52, 1974.
Pathway of Light.

#54, 1974.


#74, 1974

 February, 1975.
Winter Solstice.