Published  29/11/2014

Chris Martin: ‘When you’re outside, you can have a truly gigantic studio’

Chris Martin: ‘When you’re outside, you can have a truly gigantic studio’

New York City-based artist Chris Martin, whose works were recently on show at the Anton Kern Gallery, talks about painting outside in the woods in Walton, how he gets his inspiration, and why he loves glitter so much


For centuries, the Catskill Mountain region has been serving artists as a place of inspiration and refuge from New York City. It was there that Thomas Cole and William Stillman, founding members of the Hudson River School Painters (1825-1875), developed the idea of landscape painting as an exercise in seeking truth, a truth found through close contact with nature and a disciplined observation of it.”1 The forest is a place of folklore and fables, of spiritual renewal and solitude – of creative growth. George Bellows (1882-1925), an American realist painter known for his gritty depictions of urban life in New York City, spent six months each year in Woodstock, painting landscapes and significantly developing his palette.2 Philip Guston (1913-80), growing weary of the New York City art world in 1967 and in the midst of a creative paradigm shift, relocated permanently to Woodstock. “It was such a relief not to have anything to do with modern art,” he said.3 One goes into the woods, as Henry David Thoreau wrote in Life in the Woods (Walden), to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”.

Walton, NY sits in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, settled in a pine tree forest. Anyone who has ever spent time there, will recognise its powerful and mysterious presence in Chris Martin’s new paintings, many of which he created there, outside among the trees. In Chameleon (2014), pours of multicoloured glitter navigate their way across vibrant hues of yellow, orange and pink acrylic paint, lyrically evoking whispering winds, air-textured moss and tiny mushrooms. Stand before Untitled (2014), a giant canvas of glitter, silver leaf and swooping gestures of magenta-coloured paint, and recall the way in which light filters through the forest’s evergreen branches. The diaristic collage elements found in many of these works do not impose their personal narrative on viewers, but rather open up to one’s own encounter with the work, leaving room for subjective interpretation.

“The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.”4

I met 60-year-old Martin at his building in Brooklyn, where he has lived and worked since 1984. Greeting me with a warm, beaming smile, he invited me in to his ground-floor studio. His wife and fellow painter, Tamara Gonzales, sat in the front room, which teemed with an overwhelming collection of art books. We made our way through the connecting hallway lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves, which as I would later learn hold Martin’s sketchbooks, to the studio couch, next to which stood a pair of conga drums and a bronze-cast chair by Julian Schnabel that Martin had acquired from a fellow painter in exchange for one of his paintings. Giant canvases stacked about 20 stretchers deep leaned against each industrial wall.

Kelly Robbins: I think I first encountered your work years ago on a James Kalm video. You pulled out a painting made of bread and explained how Wonder Bread is a much better medium than rye bread.

Chris Martin: Yes! We have one right over here. I’m actually making a few that are in progress. [He walks us over to a flat file, pulls out a drawer and reveals a bread painting: six pieces of bread, painted white.] You’re right, it used to be Wonder Bread, but now Wonder Bread has actually gone out of business. None of these things is actually bread, right? They’re made of recombinated materials to approximate bread. So this is bread encased in many layers of acrylic plastic.

KR: Were your parents artists?

CM: No. Well, my mother was a serious amateur classical musician. She had been a writer and a poet. My father was a businessman and a lawyer, so my parents were very involved in the arts, but not artists. But I was encouraged that “this” is a worthy thing to do.

KR: Did you watch a lot of cartoons when you were growing up?

CM: I missed out on cartoons. Actually, I grew up without a television, because my parents were interested in old European culture and suspicious of American popular culture, but by the time I was in junior high, I used to sneak off to my friend’s house to watch television.

KR: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?

CM: I actually knew exactly at age 13 (just turning 14). I realised with complete certainty that I was a painter. [He laughs.] I was copying a Picasso painting called The Three Dancers, and listening to James Brown’s Mashed Potato Popcorn over and over again. The combination of James Brown, Picasso and drinking Coca-Cola, I thought “that this is it”. At that moment in my life, I probably completely misunderstood what cubism was, but I had this idea: “Oh, you can make up your own world.” This guy [Picasso] had created his own world. I sensed this incredible passion and rhythm in those paintings. He, in that way, somehow gave me permission to be a painter. That’s a crazy thing to say when you’re a 13-year-old, but I thought I can really do this.

KR: That’s quite a moment! Do you still think of The Three Dancers?
Picasso’s The Three Dancersis a great painting of these three figures in front of a window, and that painting has never stopped being this extraordinary totem for me.

KR: I’m curious about your time at Yale.

CM: I went to Yale as an undergraduate and I dropped out after two and a half years. However, while I was there I met some great people, some wonderful artists who were in the grad school, whom I later befriended. I made some lifelong friends. My friend Peter Acheson and I have been close painting comrades since that time. I met Peter Halley. We were undergraduates together. The undergraduate atmosphere in the art department was not good, but the atmosphere in the graduate school was very exciting. I left college because I was very inspired by this man, Al Held, who was teaching in the graduate school and had a show at the Whitney Museum. I was so moved by his show and his example that I left college to go to New York. I had this whole romantic idea about being an artist downtown.

Generally, I find the atmosphere of art schools and the business of art education to be hopelessly corrupt and a complete fraudulent exercise. Having said that, the people who gather at these schools are really exciting, lovely people. I’m against art education in general, though. I think it’s a terrible idea. I’m really in favour of learning things, but I don’t think you can teach things, so the more you think you’re teaching something, the more people’s minds are being confused or shut down – in art, in particular. If I’m on an aeroplane, I would like to know that my pilot went to flight school and had a real education in flying a plane. There are things, physical things about painting and sculpture that can be taught – about craft, though I never really learned much about it – but I think the real education people get is from their comrades. You also get your education by looking, by being in love with painting and just looking at a lot of painting and wanting to look at painting and going to see your friends’ work in their studios and talking about work, and I think that’s how I was really educated in New York.

KR: What was New York like when you first arrived?

CM: It was a very different city in the 70s. It was in some ways much easier to make a living in New York. It was a much more dangerous, but a much more empty city. You could find studio spaces very cheaply. People I knew worked a few days a week and they could afford their spaces. The scene was much smaller. It wasn’t particularly international. I didn’t travel much, so I really grew up in the New York art world.

The abstract expressionists were already living in the suburbs by the time I arrived. Willem De Kooning was out on Long Island making masterpieces, but I’d never met him. Clyfford Still was living in Baltimore, Maryland or somewhere, so those guys had washed out. Minimalism was king, and mostly sculpture was everywhere. There was a lot of performance art, great dance and video happening in SoHo. It was the beginning of SoHo – there were only a few galleries there. It was very exciting. I spent a lot of time at the St Marks Poetry Project, seeing the readings there, the dancers and performances. The abstract expressionists had been heroes in college and have remained so my whole life, but I was particularly obsessed with the Beat Generation when I showed up. I used to go to see Allen Ginsberg read, and would run into William Burroughs on the street. I read everything that I could. Jack Kerouac had died by then, but that group of artists had a great influence on me. Robert Frank and his wife June Leaf lived around the corner from me. A couple of times I said, “I love your stuff,” but I didn’t know him. There was a thriving music scene: Talking Heads, Television and Patti Smith were down town. Also the avant garde movie scene of Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage was very exciting for me. I used to go to all of Harry Smith’s lectures. That generation was very inspiring to me.

KR: How did your first exhibition in New York come about?

CM: All the shows I had when I was a young artist came through other artists. Then a number of them came because, together with my friends, I just put work up. I used to work loading wholesale crates of cut flowers and there was a warehouse, the Armellini Depot on West 28th Street, that was empty in the daytime and we hung paintings along the broken plaster walls in this huge old warehouse and we had an opening. That was one of my first shows, and I think it lasted for 24 hours. [He laughs.] I think Tom Nozkowski came to that show, and that meant a lot to me at the time. He’s a great painter.

KR: How long have you been living in this neighbourhood?

CM: I came to New York in 1976, where I lived and had a studio on Houston Street. Then I found a studio in Williamsburg in 1980 that I shared with Kathy Bradford, over on Bedford Avenue, when it was a deserted sleepy Polish/Italian neighbourhood. I moved to this building in 1985.

KR: When did you begin working upstate?

CM: I have always gone upstate ever since I was a baby. My family had land up there, so I’m very connected to the Catskill Mountain ecosystem in particular. My wife has had a house in Walton for almost 10 years now, so we’ve been in the town of Walton and have worked in little studios in her house. I also worked on the lawn for many summers. Over the past few years, we have rented empty industrial buildings in Walton. Right now, I have a space of about 6,000 sq ft up there. It’s such a privilege and a joy to be able to spread out and leave things everywhere, leave half-finished things, and be able to see so much unfinished work at one time. I’ve been doing that pretty consistently for parts of the year for several years now.

KR: Do you have a couch in there?

CM: You know, I haven’t got the couch in there this year, but I usually have a couch. A couch is a very important thing to have as an artist. [He laughs.] You’ve got to take naps. It’s a key element.

KR: For your current show at Anton Kern, I learned from the catalogue that many of your works were made, quite literally, in the woods. What’s it like, painting in the woods?

CM: It’s great because one gets to be outside, which is usually a real plus in the country. When you’re outside, you can have a truly gigantic studio. You can get away from a painting – very far away from it. If someone said that you have a studio that is 50 or 100 feet long, that would be a really big studio. Outside, if you’re 100 feet away from a tree, it doesn’t seem like you’re so far away. Being able to work out in nature is just a great big free space. There are also all these wonderful intangibles of being outside – reacting to the light and what’s happening around me: the sounds of birds, or whatever. Also, sometimes when it’s raining, I’ll leave things out for days or weeks at a time. Doing so can age a painting in a nice way – it dirties it up in a way that can be helpful.

KR: Do you consider yourself a master craftsman or a really talented rascal?

CM: [He laughs.] If you have to check a box here, I’m definitely not a master craftsman. My approach in the last several years has been a real curiosity to try all kinds of crazy different materials. If things fall apart fairly quickly, I don’t use them, or I change how I use them. But I’m not someone who is deeply involved in their craft. I have friends, like my good friend Bill Jensen, who truly are master craftsmen. No, I’m not that. I try to make things so they’ll last, but my approach is extremely ignorant.

KR: Do you paint every day?

CM: No. I think there’s some kind of drawing activity most days.

KR: What do your sketches represent to you relative to your painting activities? Are your drawings sketches for your paintings or individual works?

CM: They’re everything: sketches, individual works, notebooks, matchbooks, paintings on paper. For me, drawing is an activity like thinking. It’s a way of processing – holding ideas, noting ideas or just somehow connecting for however brief a period of minutes with a blank thing.

KR: What is the oldest painting you have here in the studio?

CM: I have a painting in the cellar that I started in high school in 1969. I repainted it a bit in college about 30 years ago. So the oldest painting I have is from the late 60s!

KR: Would you touch it now?

CM: No, no. I just have it.

KR: It’s a sort of a signpost?

CM: Yes.Around 1992 or 93, the art world crashed. I went through a hard personal time and I kind of withdrew from the art world. I think around that time I had more than 100 finished small paintings. For several years, I just reworked those same paintings. It’s something that I’ve been involved in off and on since the 80s and that is to stay. I like to rework paintings that I’m not completely satisfied with over time, so there are paintings here that I have dated over the course of 10 or 20 years.

KR: Are you still working on them?

CM: I’m leaving most of those, though I found one the other day that is a terrible painting. I’m going to work on it. It’s just like using the same surface.

KR: When you revisit a painting, do you think about where you were in life the last time you were working on it?

CM: Very much. The hope is that if you stay with something through the process of revising, that you can get to a place that is unexpected and surprising. With luck, you can find a suppressed energy and content that accrues to an object.

KR: Do you make mistakes?

CM: [He laughs.] It’s continual mistakes most of the time. One has an idea and one sets out. Sometimes it’s a general idea in the unknown, but sometimes it’s a pretty specific idea and you execute this thing, but there’s always a gap between one’s idea or one’s drawing and a painting, so the process of painting almost always leads to revisions and a surprising outcome.

KR: How did you begin your paintings for your current show at Anton Kern?

CM: I was beginning a lot of them with a simple form in painted acrylics. I’d have a gessoed white surface and the first step for me, before I drew on them or got too involved in the details of what the form was going to be, was to lay down these colours, sometimes in a simple geometric pattern and sometimes with these horizontal bands. In a few cases, those early first coats turned out to be really fresh and interesting and I ended up living with them and leaving them as finished paintings. For most of the paintings, they started out like that and then various layers of information were applied.

KR: Are the photographs and collage elements in the paintings of your current show diaristic?

CM: Yes, they’re diaristic, but not in any conscious way. I’m always gathering and cutting collage materials, either because I found a funny picture, or an album cover that I grew up with, or a picture of somebody I like, or just a random picture of an animal. It’s an equally intuitive process as the drawing and construction of the paintings or the colours that end up in the paintings. At a certain point, I’m choosing things to go on a certain painting. Sometimes somebody shows up in a painting. George Harrison recently showed up in one, and then I started finding out what other images made sense with George, but it’s not like I’m thinking things through. It’s more like I find a picture of Saturn or something and it feels as if it belongs with George. After the fact, I sometimes find myself constructing stories that are weird personal narratives from the collage items. I’m not necessarily thinking somebody else is going to get this story, but it makes sense to me the way in which things end up in a painting together. More often than not something doesn’t make sense. At the same time, one is aware that there are certain images or people that you use and they have a different value, and if you put James Brown in a painting, all of a sudden there’s the whole public persona of James Brown –people love him or hate him: he beat his wife – so one becomes aware that certain images have all this baggage. Then one has to take responsibility for that, or not. A lot of it comes from stuff I get in Walton, NY, in junk stores or at the supermarket, where they sell hunting, gun and motorcycle magazines. At other times, it’s imagery that relates to my life. For example when I was 15, I grew up with Playboy magazine. It’s not just the beautiful women, it’s the ad for cars or whiskey. There’s this weird cultural ad for hi-fi systems. I now see the way it affected me and the way I see it now. I’m not concerned that people get the same reading that I do because there is no exact reading. It’s not like when I put George Harrison in the painting I know what the meaning is. I don’t.

KR: Is that a gel medium you’re mixing with the glitter?

CM: Sometimes it’s a gel, sometimes it’s just acrylic paint or oil paint with an alkyd medium so that it flows and has a consistency of something like enamel paint. So I get to paint just the way I’ve always been painting, and then to apply glitter is this other layer of information. I can add glitter in a different way of drawing in the paint, and also I can draw with the glitter in the paint, or I can add colour in different areas using different coloured glitters. Let’s say you have a big gestural brushstroke, well it’s hard to make that brush stroke part red and part green, but when that brush stroke is wet, I can apply colour using glitter and making one side green or one side red, so it’s a very interesting way for me to add an extra layer of information. Plus, glitter is so beautiful.

KR: Your surfaces are special – glitter and toast. I’m curious about your gestural language and also about how your seemingly disparate modes of painting coexist.

CM: When I back up, I feel it’s all one mode. There are gestures that I find myself repeating for years. I think there are forms that I return to, but it’s not so much because these are my wonderful favourites, but more likely that I hopelessly find myself circling to certain forms over and over again. In the current show, there’s an attempt in some of the paintings to draw in a way that is outside my conscious control. Sometimes they start with me pouring paint on the paintings when they are horizontal, and then I go into the thicker poured areas of paint and articulate them in a way that is not so conscious but more of a physical, rhythmic, gestural way of forming. During the act of forming, I’m watching what I’m doing. If suddenly the form looks like a squirrel, I have the option of changing it so it doesn’t look like a squirrel, so I’m watching and then reacting to what is happening.

KR: Intuitively?

CM: Yes. Also, when you’re in the country all the time and you’re looking at trees, bushes and sky, that intensive looking informs what you see in your own forming. Sometimes I’m conscious that I’m painting a tree and sometimes I think I’m just mopping up a pool of paint and it looks like a tree – or maybe I’m just seeing trees in everything – so the attempt is not to illustrate a particular form, but to discover that form in the act of forming. [He breaks into laughter.] If that makes any sense. It’s very different from, say, a ballet dancer dancing a very clear choreography. As a dancer, you can feel at times when your body is on – while within this highly disciplined dance that you know, but sometimes you can feel the energy is there and you’re just dancing the dance; you are really flying around. But other times you’re struggling physically to stay in the dance. Well, for a painter, one is the choreographer and the dancer at the same time. Sometimes I am drawing/choreographing something more clearly ahead of time, and at other times it’s a truly spontaneous thing, where I’m going in there to dance and I’ve made certain decisions about the colour or the kind of glitter and the thickness of the paint, but then you step out there and sometimes it goes well and sometimes it goes badly.

KR: How do you react to something going well in the studio? Let’s say you put down a layer you really like …

CM: When that happens you feel really good about yourself and the whole world. For a few minutes, everything seems possible. Then, I get to step back, wait for it to dry, then tilt it up, see what I’ve done and live with it for days. It can look great for the first hour, then maybe a few days later I’m seeing how I’d like to change it. Sometimes when I first make a painting I am honestly confused about what I’ve made. Over time of just looking and pondering, a painting either starts to make sense or not.

KR: What do you think about when you’re painting? Do you let the world in?

CM: Well our minds are, as the Buddhists say, “monkey minds,” so half the time they are just jumping around everywhere. When things are going really well, there is, I think, a lack of thought. There’s an attention being paid to the process at hand, a physical process. When one is really paying physical attention very closely, there’s less thinking. So probably I paint well when there’s less thinking. What actually goes through one’s mind is the million mundane things. The actual portrait of an artist’s mind moment to moment is just a fractured as anybody else’s mind from moment to moment.

KR: Do you watch television or listen to music while you work?

CM: I sometimes listen to music when I paint, though this whole summer when I was working on the show I had no music. I got used to the silence in the studio. It was very nice, actually. Occasionally I would talk to myself when I was looking at painting, but I didn’t answer myself.

KR: What moves you from one body of work to the next? Or how do you move forward? Is there a thread?

CM: In retrospect, I think it’s much easier to see the thread. When you look back, you see things being connected. I think the thing that keeps one moving forward is an exhaustion of a certain kind of image or way of working. When you discover something in the act of painting it, you can make a really exciting painting. When you do that, the natural inclination is to make another one. Sometimes you make a whole bunch of these things and they’re going really well, but at a certain point, when you go to this series and you think, “Oh, I know what I’m doing, I’m going to make another one,” it starts to go empty and suddenly the paintings are terrible. It happens because you’re no longer going to the work with this fresh sense of discovery and excitement. You go thinking: “Oh, I know how to make a good one. I’ll make it like the last one.” There’s a constant falling away or drying up of what one is doing, and then a need to make things fresh again, to hold one’s full attention, arises.

KR: How do you make things fresh again?

CM: Sometimes one can consciously refuse to do things that one has been doing, so that you just stop doing things that you’re getting good at. For example, lately I’m obsessed with using glitter. There will come a time when I say: “OK, no more glitter.” There are going to be times when, whatever it is that was the driving force of the past few months, one can deliberately say: “I’m not going to do that any more.” On the other side, there are things that one is inspired by that are fresh, where you go: “My gosh, I just saw a tree or I just saw this Matisse drawing and that makes me want a new idea. Sometime it’s a forcing oneself to step away from old habits, and sometimes there’s something fresh drawing you forward.

KR: What’s it like when you make a series of paintings that do really well and you’re ready to move forward? Have you ever been discouraged by your dealers to to change or evolve?

CM: Oh, I think there’s a certain level of pressure, both obvious and subtle, that the culture as a whole and the market wants – things that are signature or identifiable. So if you wear a Gucci handbag, everyone knows you’ve got a Gucci handbag. If you’re driving a BMW, everybody knows a BMW. You know it’s good quality. If you go to a Bob Dylan concert, everyone’s hoping he’ll sing Like a Rolling Stone. This is a problem of success. As an artist, you do something that everybody likes and, naturally, they would like more of that, and as an artist, if you do something you really like, you want more of it, too. However, to evolve as an artist, you have to be willing to move forward. Good dealers and serious people in the art world understand and support that. I’ve always been someone whose work has changed and has been quite varied within what I do. I have good friends who are just naturally much more focused and their work has looked similar for many years. I used to envy those people because they have that thing going for them, but I’m not that kind of artist.

KR: Do you have paintings that have never been shown?

CM: Yes. Since I came to New York I have always been interested in a particular scale and I could get to that scale by making very large paintings, so I’ve always made these, and most people don’t need large paintings, so some of the things I have never been able to show are these really large paintings. I understand that – that I makes these things for myself – and one hopes that the culture as a whole will want to save them and show them some day, but I have 30, 40 ft paintings in here that haven’t been shown. My friends have seen them, painters have seen them, but I understand that it’s difficult for galleries and dealers to put this kind of work out into the world.

KR: Do you keep everything you make?

CM: When surfaces become horrible and problematic, or things become just so ugly, I throw them out. 

KR: I’ve heard that your interests extend beyond the traditional to various forms of “outsider” art, if that distinction really exists any more.

CM: The art world is always making those distinctions and society as a whole makes those distinctions. It used to be much more about racism, but now I think it’s more about a class warfare. If you have a master’s degree from a university, you’re considered a “real artist”, because you are educated and can be a professional and you “know what you’re doing”, and if you’ve just started painting, there’s all this suspicion that you’re just making it up. Therefore you’re not accorded the same kind of cultural value, which is a horrible fact of our society. I was always interested in outsider, untrained , or self-taught art.

When I was about 40, I went back to college and finished my degree and studied art therapy. I worked for 15 years as an art therapist with men and women living with HIV and Aids. I got to know some of the most wonderful and talented artists from all kinds of places. I was very inspired and humbled by how great the paintings were that these people were making. In fact the use of glitter comes from my first working up in Harlem in 1992. Clients and me had glitter as one of our materials, which everyone really loved, which I quickly realised was great. So I’ve always been open to that world. It’s obscene that America has this Folk Art Museum and then the Museum of Modern Art. You have very great artists, such as Thornton Dial, Purvis Young or Lonnie Holley, who are put in a weird economic and social ghetto because they can’t be in the Museum of Modern Art because they are outsider artists. That distinction is just obscene. Maybe that distinction is starting to break down.

KR: You’re right. I saw a show of Holley’s work last year at James Fuentes.

CM: Yes, so things are starting to change. Lonnie is a great artist and he’s a crazy wild musician as well. I had the privilege of getting to know him a little bit when we visited him in Alabama many years ago. We live with a lot of Holley work upstairs that is really amazing and inspiring.

KR: Does history matter to you (being a part of it) or do you prefer this moment only?

CM: [He laughs.) No. This moment only is this fantastic moment in history. When one is actually painting (when it’s going well), one is in the moment and oblivious to history. One isn’t consciously [thinking]: “Oh, is this going to be like what she did 20 years ago?” When you’re performing in a way that engages your whole person or self, that’s a great feeling and that’s the way one would like to live. At the same time, I’m deeply involved in the history of painting.

I love painting and I love learning about painting from all the different parts of the world and from the different parts of history, and I’m very aware of a dialogue that I have with my friends and comrade painters here in New York City and Europe – my contemporaries. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Marsden Hartley [1877-1943] again. I have all these books and I’m thinking about Hartley all the time. I went to visit a friend yesterday. I walked into his loft and there was this stunning Hartley painting I had never seen. It was very moving and also very affirming. In that way, one feels a connection with the ancestors that is real. And then one has a responsibility on the other end to meet with young people who are just becoming painters and maybe one can help out in some way or pass things along.

KR: Do you visit other artists in their studios?

CM: I do, and would like to do more, actually. Lately, I’ve been busy and away from New York, and it’s hard. This community of artists I have grown up in and with is certainly something that has sustained me and has been this great inspiration. It’s very important to have those kind of deeper exchanges with one’s contemporaries and friends. We have a few hours to sit and look at paintings and bring out paintings and talk to each other in honest ways. I have some very close friends with whom I do that, and it’s very important. The most important person in that regard is my wife, who is a terrific artist. We talk to each other’s paintings – the corner of this painting and the centre of that painting – so this dialogue goes on all the time and it’s very important for us. She’s had a big influence on me.

KR: You’re very lucky to have each other.

CM: I am.

KR: Do younger painters ever contact you and ask you to look at their work?

CM: They do. It’s a little humbling to realise that there are more younger painters that want my attention than I can give attention to, but it’s basically a wonderful thing. As an artist, I’m learning to find a balance between the time I need for myself to do my work – you’ve got to be alone to do this stuff – and balance that with meeting other people.

KR: What’s it like for you to visit a young painter’s studio? Are you critical?

CM: It’s always a privilege when another human being is saying: “Here is the work that I do. Let me show you my work.” I know how naked one can feel when one shows a new painting. I can feel very nervous showing a new painting to my wife. I know that one is very exposed. This is why art is so exciting for us: hopefully, we really exposed our intimate ways of thinking and feeling through our work. Whenever another person is showing you their work, it’s a very intimate situation. One hopes to be able to respond and enjoy those moments. I have no formula for what I’m going to give people. In fact, I think it’s better [to have] no idea at all about what one is going to give.

KR: Who do you paint for?

CM: I think we all paint for ourselves. And the next question, of course, is who are ourselves, because that changes from moment to moment. When it goes really well, I discover what Chris loves, but Chris didn’t even really know it. Then the immediate audience is Tamara and my painting comrades. When I went to the gallery a few days ago to meet some people, there was a couple I didn’t know and they had a little girl who looked about four years old. She was going around and really checking out the paintings, and they kept stopping her from touching the glitter, and I was very happy. When I saw her, I could tell that she really liked the paintings. It made my day. I felt great, like if I had pleased this little girl, if she was really into it, I thought she was a great audience. Then, at the same time, your audience is people you haven’t even met yet. Anyone that can get some energy or inspiration or joy out of these paintings, I feel very lucky to be able to be part of that exchange.

KR: It’s a gift.

CM: Yeah, you’re gifting, and it’s not even your gifting. It’s a privilege to be the one that the gifts are coming through.

Chris Martin was at the Anton Kern Gallery, New York City, from 9 October to 15 November 2014.

1. Wilderness and its Waters: A Professional Identity for the Hudson River School by Diana Strazdes, Early American Studies, Volume 7, Number 2, 2009.
2. Leaving for the Country: George Bellows at Woodstock, Georgia Museum of Art.
3. My Father: Philip Guston by Musa Mayer. This article is adapted from Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston by His Daughter, by Musa Mayer, published by Alfred A Knopf, 1988.
4. Nature and Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

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the Studio International Foundation, PO Box 1545,
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