I noticed Donald Martiny’s work in 2013 at an art fair in Miami with Kathryn Markel Gallery. I was immediately drawn to it and was very curious about his process. Since that time his career has become very active, including landing a solo exhibition at Fort Wayne Museum of Art, an installation of his work at the new World Trade Center, upcoming exhibits in Germany, the United Kingdom and another solo museum exhibition in Michigan, at Alden B. Dow Museum of Art and Science in September, for which he was preparing 15 works for before this interview.
Martiny lives and works in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He was born in Schenectady, New York in 1953 and studied at the School of the Visual Arts, the Art Students League in New York, New York University and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His work is in private collections in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and the U.S.
I was thrilled to have an opportunity to discuss his process, experience and studio practice.
PA: Please describe your work and process.
DM: First I want to thank you, Brenda, and Professional Artist magazine for inviting me to talk about my work.
I make gestural, painterly works that are not bound by the shape of a canvas or ground. The gesture or figure defines the shape of the painting rather than the ground or canvas. My decision to work this way happened because I felt the traditional rectangular-shaped paintings historically referred to portals or windows that the viewer looks through to experience the art. Irregularly shaped works allow the paintings to confront the viewer in his or her own space. This offers a more immediate and intimate experience, which is more interesting to me. Additionally, I didn’t want or need the rectangle as a form or object. It, in fact, got in the way of what I was trying to do.
My process begins with sketches made in color using oils or acrylic paint on paper. There is a wall in my studio that I fill with these sketches. Over time I decide which ones continue to excite me and those are the paintings which end up becoming developed.
The paintings are made on the floor because I like to walk around them and work into them from all angles. They are composed of a paint that is a polymer mix heavily loaded with pigment. Sometimes I’ll employ brooms or mops for brushes or simply paint with my hands. I like being in the painting as much as possible and enjoy the primal experience of pushing the paint around.
PA: I read that you spent a lot of time developing the paint for this process, how long and what type of art did you make before this?
DM: I wanted to be a painter at a very young age without really understanding what that meant. Like most art students, I thought the best way to make art was to make works that looked like the art that I was familiar with. So I attended art school and learned how to draw and paint in oils the traditional way, figure, still life, landscape.
One day I noticed that my sketchpad was filled with drawings where I had drawn a rectangle to define a working space. However, the drawings filled the page ignoring the space. It occurred to me that I was doing this to bring the work forward, to enter into my space. That was when the idea of painting the figure without the ground occurred to me. I didn’t want to shape the ground and paint it the way Frank Stella did in 1960 — I wanted to freely paint and let the paint [figure] determine the shape of the painting.
The idea then became a technical problem, how to make paint that dries strong enough to stand by itself. Doggedly pursuing this goal, I spent hours on the phone with chemists, engineers and technicians. After about five years of painful exploration and experimentation, I finally got to a paint that can perform the way I needed it to. It is a continually evolving process and I am constantly modifying, improving, and pushing what it and I can do.
PA: Tell us a bit about your experience in creating the works for the World Trade Center.
DM: The two paintings were the largest I had made to date and making them on site was both exciting and terrifying. We decided to move my studio into the lobby of One World Trade Center. The proposed works were too large to fit through any of the doors to the building and cutting new doors was not an option. Working on site was terrific because I was able to respond directly to the changing light, movement and space of the building. That said, there was no room for failure and I had a tight deadline. For me, the process of painting requires a tremendous amount of concentration and focus. Because of that I have never painted in front of anyone before. The lobby of One World Trade Center gets something close to 25,000 visitors a day. Ultimately, it was a tremendously positive experience from beginning to end.
PA: What advice do you have for artists who are just starting out or have been at it for a long time and have not gotten to the place with their work that they want to be?
DM: First, I firmly believe artists need to look at art, all kinds of art, as much as possible. The history of art is a rich, fascinating and complex conversation.
Second: To participate in the conversation one needs to say something interesting. Try to find your own authentic voice and be as honest with yourself and your work as possible. This will set you apart.
And finally: hard consistent work. I believe Chuck Close said it best when he said, “…not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
PA: What is your studio practice like?
DM: I try to be in the studio by 8:30 or 9 a.m. and work until 7:30 p.m. seven days a week. I do my color mixing during the hours when there is natural light. My studio is in the woods with windows on two sides so I often see deer, owls and other wildlife. I do everything myself, but I have a part-time assistant who helps build crates for shipping.
PA: What are three things you are grateful for?
DM: Number 1: Love. I feel incredibly lucky to have love in my life; I am fortunate to have a wonderful loving family, including my daughter and son, who are remarkable and amazing people, and my wife who is a talented artist and my best friend.
Number 2: Dream. I have defined myself as an artist since I was in the seventh grade or perhaps younger. I am living my dream of being a full-time artist.
Number 3: Health. At this moment in time everyone in my family, including myself, is in good health and no one seems to be distressed.
These are the three things I am most grateful for in my life.
PA: What do you listen to in the studio?
DM: When I am building crates or organizing tools I listen to NPR, that is how I stay in touch with the rest of the world.
Sometimes I listen to music — any kind of music: classical, jazz, indie rock.
However, when I am painting, I usually work in silence.
PA: Tell us a little bit about your studio space.
DM: Too small — I outgrew my studio years ago. The paintings are large and I work on the floor. So while paintings are drying, my studio space gets smaller. I can’t have more than three paintings drying at the same time.
For more information on the Martiny and his work, visit www.donaldmartiny.com.
Brenda Hope Zappitell creates abstract expressionist works not only born out of intuition but also serendipitously influenced by nature and life experiences. She earned her B.S.W. from Florida State University in 1986 and her J.D. from University of Miami Law School in 1990. Zappitell is mostly self-taught but has attended classes and workshops in New Mexico, Mexico and Florida. She is represented at galleries around the country and has participated in solo and group exhibitions. Her work is in both private and public collections. Visit zappitellstudio.com.