Sam Martin, Aug 2010

Sam Martin, Overloaded Man

Arc One Gallery, Project Space, Melbourne, 24 August – 18 September 2010

In the tight confines of the project space at Arc One a definitive articulation of colour pulsates from the semi-figurative, semi-abstract paintings of Sam Martin. A rushing sea of reds is offset by occasional oranges and greens, which are punctured through with blues and whites. It is overwhelmingly a bombast of colour, where the toxicity of acid sharpness dances with its pastel counterpoint.

But colour is only the first phase of the experience. And, importantly, it must be noted that experiencing Martin’s paintings is a process of phases. Time spent is rewarded. Before long the figurative elements of the works make themselves known. Imbued with a theatricality of posturing that recalls aspects of the Baroque, the figures cast themselves as heroic presences, each framing their own physicality but also counter-framing their adjacent companions in clever compositional arrangements that make full use of interplaying negative spaces. This is most evident in the largest of the canvases, Bad Circulation, that brings with it a sense of the group dynamics of crowds, coupled with a feeling that each figure is yet isolated from its neighbours. The manner in which Martin has selected his figures and then expressed their choreography is particularly interesting, evoking a sense of dance, of corporeality and the conscious expression of bodily physicality.

In Red Conversation the spatial dynamics of the composition echo the pressed up planes of a Cezanne still-life, something that is evident throughout all the works, but more intense in this particular piece. The red, caped figures are overlaid on layers of browns and oranges that add an optical sparkle to this piece. As with all of Martin’s figures, individual features are edited out to leave the viewer with posture and the opportunity to cast their own ideas of identity onto the works. The caped figures of Red Conversation take on a more potent sense of a hidden identity, lending the work a certain ominous and conspiratorial presence. And here, in what is clearly a conscious trope of Martin’s, the image is pierced with spatial relief, on this occasion by small, crisp blue brush strokes in the centre, around which the figures appear to be gathered, and on the upper edge. In other works this is done by leaving exposed canvas, patches of solid colour, or spaces of watered drips between figures.

The balancing act of spatial relief, a punctured freedom in an otherwise congested composition, echoes another balancing act that Martin manages to pull off successfully, that of abstraction and figuration. A resonance with Symbolist painting could be said to exist here too, and with that, the abstracted psychological reverie that comes with the abstracted articulation of the figures and the very deliberate and deliberated relation of colours.

A promising series of works from a young artist, a bold and confident grappling with painting, a poet conjuring vivid verse in the hustle of a busy urban world.

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