The Art of Fred Martin
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From my Art and History, June 17, 1978.

An artist said to me, "I need to irritate, I need to drive the strain in at the edges." I think we all need to hear, to weigh, to watch those strained edges; we all need to try to understand the reason for the strain: Why it is that we are strained by such people? Why it is they need so to strain us?

Writing of Cezanne in Art in America (March/April, 1978), Carter Ratcliff said: “…..most painters have two styles. The first—the prime style, the vehicle of the artist's meaning for him- or herself—is generated from the most inward aspects of the artist's own experience. The second—which could be called a mediating style—does what can be done to make the necessarily elusive meanings of the prime style available to an audience. Most artworks blend prime and mediating styles. The maturity of a great artist renders the blending seamless...

“What then is…[one] to make of…[an artist]   whose perverse maturity consists of a progressively more complete abandonment of his mediating style? …[leaving] a prime style utterly dissociated from its mediating style, thus a style with no stylishness, no power to amuse; an inwardness with no concessions, no generosity; an artist with no concern for an audience…”

I think we are strained by the edge of the prime style of such people because they need to strain against us—only by that friction can they know the authenticity of their uniqueness, only thus can they know they are real. As the artist said, "That's love in the '70s, Fred. Irritation."

And we need to be strained, to have the comfortable edge of our perceptions rasped—after all, only in this way is art ever genuinely revolutionary. All other revolutionary art is only someone else's revolution. It's not my revolution, a revolution of me, in my eye, in my heart. Therefore, “That's love in the '70s. Irritation.” Revolutionary love.

We find ourselves by irritating the world; where the sore spot is, we are; where the comfort is, is no feeling and no body. Nothing. Nobody. And the world finds its shape and order by its sore edges. Where the hurt is, the body knows it is; where the hurt isn't, is nothing. I do not know I walk until my feet hurt; I do not know I have a digestion until I have a stomach ache; I do not know I have a brain until I have a headache. That's why we need these difficult, strange, unhappy people around—especially the ones who are not fools, especially the intelligent ones. And, anyway, how can an art be revolutionary if it is not revolting?


A student said: “People come over to see me and I don't even know they're there; it's just up and down with the brush, kind of like for a million years ... and people wonder how anyone could sit there for that much time and work on these—and well like it's definitely a continuous smoking of marijuana, being that it helps me sit there all day, every day, and four nights a week, at least six hours a night.”

The painting was quite dark. It showed a street corner, with a dark sunset sky. In the building on the left there was a lighted window with a man inside. “Like this guy; I tried to make it seem like he's watching television... 1 should do a whole bunch of people watching television, like they go to work and they're in that dream all day, and then they come home and watch TV and they're in that dream all night.”

There is a figure standing in the street at the lower right. He wears a robe with a pointed cowl, like a Spanish monk. “…A wizard. This is like being a little Jesus-type person but just sort of a kicked-back dude and he's giving the peace symbol [his right hand is upraised]... and that's like a crystal ball [held in the left hand]."

Floating in the sky, seeming to be attached to the crystal ball by a ray or a string, is what looks like a balloon with little wings. “Like what's happening here, this is like it's an angel hanging in a soap bubble. It reminds me of a friend who always looks like that, and it seems like he sees everything and the reason why he always goes like that [expanding, floating, gazing] is he was in Vietnam and got really weirded out so he is always really a kind of freaky guy now and he seems like he knows a lot of things but people hardly ever listen to him because he is like weirded out ... and so it picks up down here [down the ray/string to the crystal] with how this wizard reads it, like you know, harmony, peace, etc. Now you know the word peace is just love and happiness and so forth and people say hippies don't know what they are talking about, just somebody trying to get out of it, but what I think the peace symbol was like when Jesus did it. …it really meant just that, harmony... It's all one thing, he's picking it up from the angel, it's coming down the string - peace, one, Jesus the one; harmony; one, two make one.

“And so I picked up this other old '60's thing, ‘Be here now,’ and this guy is writing it on the wall. But the thing is, even the guy who is writing be here now isn't seeing what's going on here because he's busy in his own trip, writing on the wall…”

A man in a hurry walks on the sidewalk at the lower left of the picture. “That's just a guy who is more concerned about time and his business than what's going on.”

A small bent old woman trudges across the back of the picture. “And then the old bagwoman with her bags, that's one of those trippy bagwomen who just walk around; you see them in every big city ... close to this thing that takes care of us, that everything works out fine if you just leave it alone ... a mother goddess image.”

“It's like a star shape connecting these things together, keeping moving like making a star with a pencil, over and over, larger and smaller... but people say, ‘Aw shit, all you ever do it sit up in your room and smoke dope.’”


I overheard two women talking in the backroom of a gallery. One was the proprietor, the other a visiting art dealer selecting a show. The first woman said, “...he sends you these slides, you know.” The second replied, “Yes, and you sit there with these one hundred slides and scratch your titties and wonder what you are supposed to do with them.”