To produce these works, Martin begins with minimal means – no more than three colors, often similar in tonality, as well as just a handful of tools or brushes and a number of vertically aligned, aluminum panels. Despite these self-imposed limitations, Martin’s latest series veer from epic and luscious compositions of swirling dark oils to pared-down and muted abstractions in smoky off-whites. Formed of horizontal bands being swept to and fro across the surface, the paintings are loaded with varying quantities of paint, resulting perhaps in significant spillages, impasto ridges and arabesque whorls or else in smaller, incidental edges, ripples and smears. These parallel strata are built up from repeated, physical gestures – a process that Martin has honed since his days at Goldsmiths College in London in the early 1990s – although are created here, not by mechanical comb-like tools, but through precise and controlled gestures, albeit with the intervention of chance, moments of happenstance and the occasional swirl of chaos.
Far from monochromes, these works are subtly gradated essays in harmonic relationships between hues and are essentially mixed during their making, as evidenced by the subtitles to each work, which includes the color combination employed, such as: Titanium White, Dutch Brown and Scheveningen Blue. These tripartite pieces lend themselves to three or more ‘horizon lines’, although smaller panels, often composed of two colors, such as French Cassel Earth and French Ardoise Grey, are just as complex and involved as images – in fact the effects of individual gestures and their intensity are magnified at this concentrated scale.
Martin’s dense layering and over-painting does not preclude the abundance of internal light experienced in many works here, which are themselves progressions in both luminosity and restraint from the first exhibition of this body of work in London last year. While some of his paintings appear to be in continuous motion and flux, this show also furthers the distinction between passages of flattened ground versus Martin’s raised, striated line, highlighting the spatial and temporal rifts present on each surface.