David Martin: Open Eye Gallery

Publication: The Times.     
November 2015

IT comes as no surprise to learn that the painter, David Martin, who was born in 1975, completed his first year studies in Physics and Astronomy at Glasgow University, passing with distinction, before embarking on a highly successful artistic career.  Martin’s paintings of anonymous figures (usually young women in fashionable street clothing) are full of strange scientific motifs, glyphs and cyphers combined with textured layers of collage, sometimes in the form of maps and charts. Here around twenty recent works (some based on a recent trip to Indonesia) work well work well in the light airy space of the former Georgian townhouse.

The large painting, ‘Celestial’, which measures around 5 feet square, shows, in the foreground, the upper part of a young female figure, in a multi-storey car park.  As is the case with much of Martin’s work, the figure is drawn from life but although readily identifiable, this is less portraiture in the conventional sense and more of a study in colour, structure and light. Martin has clearly worked hard in his apprenticeship as a painter, as the painting reveals a history of depiction, perspective and the way in which colour and form can convey emotion.

That said, Martin’s paintings are non-expressionistic. They do not use colour and form as their primary mode of communication. A careful examination of the figure’s clothing reveals various patterns and motifs derived from charts, in this case they are aviation flight charts, an observation which chimes with the background structure. Partly seen and partly imagined, this shows the engineered structure of the car-park overlaid with visual echoes of the charts, as well the depictions of a spiral galaxy.

‘Remains’ shows a similar structure and approach, in that a young woman inhabits the open space in the foreground of the painting while various layered structures and landscapes form the back-drop. In this case, a Scottish highland landscape has been overlaid with echoes and ghost-structures derived from architecture and engineering.  The composition is punctuated with images of fossilised creatures such as dinosaurs and ammonites.

In both these major paintings, as elsewhere, Martin is stressing the connections between us as individuals in the present (what some scientists refer to as the Anthropocene) and the world in a wider geological time scale. His references to cosmology and astrophysics also situate contemporary humanity with a much wider context.

Martin’s work calls to mind an observation made by Albert Einstein, in 1931: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.”

Martin clearly marvels at the world that him and his work is buoyed by careful craft, acute observation and great curiosity.

* David Martin’s large painting (7m in height), which occupies the entrance to 42 St Andrew’s Square (formerly the Royal Bank of Scotland) can be seen for the duration of the exhibition