Time Telling

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Untitled May 14, 1979
aesthetic, series, abstract painting, Dadaism, Surrealism, interaction, light, acrylic, canvas, texture, surface, art conservation, gesso, plaster of Paris, Murray Favro, Greg Curnoe, non-representational painting
description

Ron Martin’s paintings require that viewers be prepared to do some thinking about what they’re looking at, to be active viewers rather than passive art gallery visitors. He made this point in an artist’s statement for a 1990 exhibition of his work:

start quoteArt is useless unless we have a capacity to digest the meaning of things for ourselves.end quote -- Ron Martin

Just as digestion is a process that requires time, Martin’s paintings demand “a prolonged and careful look” in the words of Walter Klepac, who has written extensively on Martin’s art practice. Similarly, a news release from the Art Gallery of Ontario announcing an exhibition of Martin’s World Paintings noted that: “Martin’s essential aim is an  interplayMutual action or influence; interaction; as, the interplay of affection. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  between  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  and observer, so that the works attain their full meaning only when confronted by the viewer.”

Some viewers may experience a  formIn its widest sense, total structure; a synthesis of all the visible aspects of that structure and of the manner in which they are united to create its distinctive character. The form of a work is what enables us to perceive it. Form also refers to an element of art that is three-dimensional (height, width, and depth) and encloses volume. For example, a triangle, which is two-dimensional, is a shape, but a pyramid, which is three-dimensional, is a form. Cubes, spheres, ovoids, pyramids, cone, and cylinders are examples of various forms. Also, all of the elements of a work of art independent of their meaning. Formal elements are primary features which are not a matter of semantic significance — including colour, dimensions, line, mass, medium, scale, shape, space, texture, value; and the principles of design under which they are placed — including balance, contrast, dominance, harmony, movement, proportion, proximity, rhythm, similarity, unity, and variety. (Artlex.com)  of  aestheticPertaining to a sense of the beautiful or to the science of aesthetics.  indigestion when viewing Martin’s paintings. Reviewer Barrie Hall admitted uttering THE obscenity when he first saw Martin’s Bright Red Paintings, “…my usual first response to art that I am immediately attracted to and absolutely flummoxed by.” Commenting on another  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  called the Black Paintings, writer Carole Corbeil stated it was impossible not to write about one’s resistance to the paintings. “…these paintings insisted on the fact that black, which is traditionally thought to absorb light, could be treated in such a way as to generate light.” (Corbeil, 1986)

If Martin demands that his viewers invest their time in and attention to his works, he has done the same. Through his series of works such as World Paintings and then single-colour series such as the Bright Red Paintings and the Black Paintings he has explored “paint as a physical element, the material itself.” (Martin, 1991)

The work presented in this theme from the MacKenzie Art Gallery  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  is from a series of untitled but dated paintings. In Untitled May 14, 1979 (presented here) Martin treats the  acrylicSynthetic paints, with pigments dispersed in a synthetic vehicle made from polymerized acrylic acid esters, the most important of which is polymethyl methacrylate. First used by artists in the late 1940s, their use has come to rival that of oil paints because of their versatility. They can be used on nearly any surface, in transparent washes or heavy impasto, with matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finishes. Acrylic paints dry quickly, do not yellow, are easily removed with mineral spirits or turpentine, and can clean up with soap and water.(Artlex.com)  paint he is using as a physical substance – paint as pure matter. (If other painters have attempted through their work to answer the question, “Why  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  matters”, perhaps Martin is attempting to make a statement about, “Why paint matters”).

Untitled May 14, 1979 invites viewers to move in closer, to see how patterns come together and then dissolve. They change appearance as the viewer moves right or left. Walter Klepac likens it to overhearing a lively and interesting conversation in a language you don’t know. “You are certain that something is being said, some particular matter is being discussed, but you do not know what it is.” (Klepac, 1985.)

Most amazing of all is that after a period of time looking at it, the painting does indeed appear to generate light, rather than absorb it. Ultimately, Klepac suggests, the viewer must “leave off closely examining sections of the painting’s  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. (artlex.com) See also texture.  and begin to reflect upon the  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  and nature of his behaviour as an observer…” By backing off, the viewer “gives the  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  free rein to configure and reconfigure as it may while he inspects it from various angles and distances.”

additional resources Things to Think About
  • In another statement Martin writes:

    “Artists are those who sacrifice themselves to an idea that carries them into the future. He or she knows that the conscious mind is the caretaker of an unconscious creative process. To violate this knowledge is to violate the fundamental nature of art.”

    What do you think Martin means by this? Can you think of or find a poet, writer or musician who has said something similar?
Advanced Activity

Take a look at the artwork of some artists who use real  textureThe quality of surface in a finished artwork; note that this can apply to painting in describing the way that the paint is applied to the canvas or other support; to sculpture in describing the way that the material used is made smooth or rough; or to video in describing the way that the light-based image is either smooth or visibly broken up into pixels.  in their art

  • Here is a video of New York artist Julian Schnabel who applied broken plates to painting.

     

Sites on activities with  textureThe quality of surface in a finished artwork; note that this can apply to painting in describing the way that the paint is applied to the canvas or other support; to sculpture in describing the way that the material used is made smooth or rough; or to video in describing the way that the light-based image is either smooth or visibly broken up into pixels.  (elements of art)

Online Activity
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Studio Activity

In his artwork Untitled, May 14, 1979, Ron Martin is interested in the physical process of making visual art, and the properties of the artwork. In this particular  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of works, Martin was engrossed with a process over time that included pouring, scraping away, sanding/re-pouring and manipulating the paint on a  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. (artlex.com) See also texture.  with a knife or with brush strokes that became three-dimensional in their appearance.

Experiment with creating texture

If you have ever helped to repair a crack on a wall or build a surface with putty or a plaster compound, you will know that the objective is to smooth the plaster so it blends seamlessly into the wall surface. Ron Martin, however, wanted to produce the opposite effect in his work, and the result was a physical texture.  In visual art this is referred to as real texture.

Experiment with various ways to make real  textureThe quality of surface in a finished artwork; note that this can apply to painting in describing the way that the paint is applied to the canvas or other support; to sculpture in describing the way that the material used is made smooth or rough; or to video in describing the way that the light-based image is either smooth or visibly broken up into pixels.  on a flat surface

You can add commercial artist  mediaAny material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, video, sound, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint. Note that the plural form of “medium” is “media.”  to paint to make it thick, but you can also try to produce the same effect through adding other ingredients (some of which are listed below). You might like to experiment with the following to experience various textures.

  • sand (the sand should be washed first to get rid of any dirt or chemicals)
  • clean kitty litter
  • pure laundry soapflakes.

NOTE: It is suggested by art conservationists that painters who want their work to survive, should not use additives such as the above, but instead should build layers of paint using traditional methods . If you want to learn more, read the section on  textureThe quality of surface in a finished artwork; note that this can apply to painting in describing the way that the paint is applied to the canvas or other support; to sculpture in describing the way that the material used is made smooth or rough; or to video in describing the way that the light-based image is either smooth or visibly broken up into pixels.  in The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques (any edition) by Ralph Mayer, widely available in most libraries.

If you would like to know more about  conservationPreservation from loss, damage, or neglect, stabilizing chemically and structurally, sustaining the survival of objects as long as possible in what is closest to their original form. The application of science to the examination and treatment of objects, and to the study of the environments in which they are placed — used, transported, and stored. What differentiates art conservation from art restoration is the conservator's avoidance of adding anything to an object that cannot be easily removed or identified. Some also address restoration and other issues involving museology. (Artlex.com)  try these sites:

  • Find out what art conservation and art restoration are at Wikipedia

Try the following ways to build a  textureThe quality of surface in a finished artwork; note that this can apply to painting in describing the way that the paint is applied to the canvas or other support; to sculpture in describing the way that the material used is made smooth or rough; or to video in describing the way that the light-based image is either smooth or visibly broken up into pixels.  first before applying paint

  • Apply objects over or under the paint surface to create further texture. These will need to be glued on with a strong adhesive.  Try broken pieces of pottery or china, buttons, sequins,various weights and kinds of wire, string, lace or other fabrics, tissue paper, and so on.
Wedding Cake
References

Author unknown.  ‘Ron Martin.’  painting now 76/77, undated.

Author unknown.  ‘Ron Martin, biography.’  Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art, undated. Retrieved from the Internet on March 26, 2008 from:  http://www.ccca.ca/bios/martinron_bio.html.

Author unknown.  ‘Ron Martin: World Paintings.’  News Release, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, undated.

Campbell, James D.  ‘Object Relations: On Ron Martin’s Recent Colour Paintings.’  C Magazine, Fall, 1990.  Retreived from the Internet on March 26, 2008 from:  http://www.ccca.ca/c/writing/c/campbell/camp027t.html.

Carpenter, Ken.  ‘Ronald Albert Martin.’  The Canadian Encyclopedia.  Retrieved from the Internet on March 26, 2008 from:  http://thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0009581

Corbeil, Carole.  ‘A purist pursues the  mythA traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people, as by explaining aspects of the natural world or delineating the psychology, customs, or ideals of society. (Artlex.com)  of matter.’  The Globe and Mail, April 12, 1986.

Fones, Robert.  ‘Ron Martin.’  Proof Only, February 1974.  Retrieved from the Internet on March 26, 2008 from:  http://www.ccca.ca/c/writing/f/fones/fones001t.html.

Klepac, Walter.  ‘Ron Martin: Black Paintings 1974-1981.’  Vanguard, May 1985.

Newlands, Anne.  Canadian Art from its Beginnings to 2000.  Willowdale, Ontario:  Firefly Books, 2000.

Martin, Ron.  ‘Artist Statement for Plan for Painting Series.’  Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art, undated. Retrieved from the Internet on March 26, 2008 from:  http://www.ccca.ca/statements/martin_statement.html.

---.  ‘Artist Statement.’  Solo Exhibition, 1990.

---.  ‘Artist Statement.’  Solo Exhibition, 1991.

---.  ‘Artist Statement.’  Solo Exhibition, 1992.

---.  ‘Artist Statement.’  A  RetrospectiveAn exhibition of work by a senior artist representing all the stages of the artist’s career.  Exhibition, 1997.

Reid, Dennis.  Concise History of Canadian Painting, 2nd edition.  Toronto:  Oxford University Press Canada, 1988.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning