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Tony Martin

December 31, 2010


‘I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.’

This quote from Clearances In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984 by Seamus Heaney encapsulates Tony Martin’s sparse enclosing blue lines. These few words have become almost a manifesto for him. Martin’s early work post-college was almost entirely figurative and landscape based.  Most, apart from the drawings, has been destroyed.  He still looks to landscape, still valuing the idea that fields contain the history of their past, however there are now other more significant references which are themselves underpinned and connected by a personal “theological perspective”. Poetry, Architecture and Music have in common a sense of space, a sense of interval. The silence, the pauses between notes or words, the interruptions of walls and doors between rooms are as important as the sounds, the phrases and the void. It is these things that Tony Martin explores, investigates and captures in his line drawings.

Six years ago during a printmaking session he was attempting to get the effect of aquatint when he had a moment of revelation.  Reaching out at random he picked up a blue conté crayon and drew a line around the edge of a piece of absorbent Fabriano printmaking paper.  Thus began an obsession with line, margins, edges and pentimenti, an Italian word used by Art Historians to describe the corrections made to Renaissance paintings. Martin quotes Leonardo, “Drawing is the art of correction”, and he pursues this in the complex process of paring down, correcting, rubbing out which occurs until he achieves a resolution which satisfies him. “I keep reworking them until they come to a place that I am happy with.  I have an internal sense of when a line is right”. The whole history of each drawing is present on the paper.  The distinctive soft, woven quality of his chosen surface, printmaking as opposed to drawing paper, allows traces of his obliterated marks to be retained creating a ghost image of what has taken place.  The line and the space it contains are the most important elements of these small square drawings.

Recently Martin has started to increase the size of his drawings which has led him to reconsider the quality of the line he is using, in response to the change in scale. 2010 also saw him returning to the exploration of colour, a move partly inspired by a visit to Sandra Blow’s Studio in Cornwall as well as his continuing experiments with collage through which he hopes to, “more fully integrate line, colour and form”.

Poetry has had a profound influence on Martin and it is an essential element of his intellectual engagement with the formal processes of making his work. Seamus Heaney’s poetry and T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets have been vital sources of inspiration in his search for the ultimate poetic space within the confines of geometrical two-dimensional flat surface. In Architecture, he identifies with the stately geometric rhythms of Norman and Romanesque buildings. In Music, predictably, the measured tones of Bach’s Baroque compositions bear a relationship to the process of refinement he takes his drawings through, in search of a simplicity which masks their immense complexity.  He says of Seamus Heaney’s, collection, ‘Opened Ground’, “I felt what was coming across was an arrangement of word, of space and measure and that there was something in this of what that I wanted to do with the graphic line.”  Martin has collaborated with poets too, with Ray Givens on his volume ‘Earthworks’ and with the Cornish poet Alan Kent. “To move from being stirred by poetry to working with poets was a thrill”. As with all of his work, the drawings for these two volumes are in no sense illustrations of the texts, they are deeply felt responses to the poetic language.

 

© Fiona Robinson 2010

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