Painter America Martin photographed in front of her recent works at her studio in Silverlake, Los Angeles.
America Martin's three different series of paintings Native Americans, Bathers and Still Life are inspired by her travels in Taos and Aix-en-Provence. The artist answers Jeanne-Marie Cilento's 10 Questions about her life and work. Additional reporting by Ambrogio De Lauro
WHEN I first saw America Martin’s paintings of the human form, I was entranced by the bold lines, rich color and the beatific energy they radiate. Her figurative works are emblematic and yet resonate with feeling and expression. The paintings’ graphic quality is contemporary and yet has a profound connection to the masters of 20th Century Modernism such as Cézanne, Modigliani and Picasso.
Looking back today, Martin says her passion for painting began when she bought a book about Van Gogh at the age of nine years old. As a precocious child of Los Angeles, by ten she had already begun studying with Vernon Wilson, a professor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Growing up in the Hollywood Hills, Martin continued this apprenticeship for the next eight years while attending the Crossroads School for the Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica, California.
After high school, she went on to study at the Boston Museum School and then moved back to Los Angeles. Martin soon began exhibiting and selling her work with other young artists, and being Los Angeles, they asked celebrities or people interested in their work to host the shows. Working from her mother’s garage, she was able to build up enough work to get the attention of art galleries. By starting to sell her work early, Martin was able to create a career in full-time painting in her twenties.
One of Martin’s key focuses has always been exploring the female figure along with Native Americans, jazz musicians, street scenes, landscapes and still lifes. Today, Martin paints in a large and light studio in Los Angeles's Silverlake which she has also made a hub for local cultural events. The artist has had many solo shows and participated in group exhibitions across North America and she has published two books about her work, the most recent called Yes came out in December 2013.
1. What part of painting and sculpting gives you the most happiness? And do you find your creative process is more rational or instinctive?
I have always believed that the life of an artist is not one that you choose ~ it is a life that chooses you. It is something you have to do. But to do what you love, to do what you dream, is happiness. I have found that art, when true, when it is good, when it breathes and lets you breathe, comes only from instinct.
I believe that art dies when it is created from rationality. For artists are inherently ridiculously irrational people. They feel too much, they dream too much and they are led around by their enormous hearts. Nevertheless, can you think of an era throughout history that was not influenced by artists?
2. Where did you grow up and does this influence your artwork?
I grew up in the wonderful city of Los Angeles, California. Being a native of L.A has greatly influenced my work. The temperate weather, the abundant resources and the cultural diversity is endlessly inspiring.
3. Why did you choose painting and sculpture as your artistic métier?
I am in love with life and with being alive. When I participate in and observe the world, painting and sculpture are the natural ways in which I am inclined to respond. Painting uses the eye and the heart; sculpture uses the hand and the mind. To do both is like breathing with both lungs.
4. How did your apprenticeship with Vernon Wilson at the Art Center College of Design and studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston influence your work?
Both experiences have given me a life-long desire to be be intensely curious. They taught me that the duty of an artist is to be ready to learn .
5. You have a singular and bold line in your drawings, paintings and sculpture. How did you develop this style of work?
To me, line is love. It is how I admire a subject. Line is how my eye naturally simplifies what I see. When I look at a woman, a man, I instantly see the lines that stand out - and I watch the lines that are less important fade. I know within a few minutes how I would paint them and how I would sculpt them. This line, this intensely joyful curiosity, is something that comes without thinking. It is something with which I believe I was born.
6. Is there a particular color or palette of colors you like to work with?
I take great delight in color. But I also find that there is always more to discover about the many hues of gray, blue and brown.
7. Do you have a set schedule of working creatively everyday in your studio in Los Angeles or is the process more fluid?
I work six days a week. I do not work on Sundays. I have found that art shows up only when you do.
8. What is it like working as an artist in Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is a wonderful place for artists. The sun shines and the sea and the mountains are close by. People come here ready to work and make their dreams come true. That kind of intention has made the air in Los Angeles rich with hope.
9. What inspired you to create the Native American, Bathers and Still Life series?
The mountains and planes of New Mexico are vast. The sky is constantly changing while the land lies still and welcomes the wind to come rolling in, full of memory. In July last year, I attended the enormous Pueblo Pow-wow in Taos, New Mexico. I took photos and listened to a visual story of people who create ceremony to celebrate community, to commemorate and to remember.
Native Faces is a series of paintings and works on paper inspired by the people I met. They are not meant to be strictly representational, but come from a reverence for the dignity of the men, women and children whom I had a chance to meet and observe, who gathered together to honor not only their own ancestors and their own history, but time itself.
The Bathers is a series of paintings created in homage to Paul Cézanne, one of the great masters of Impressionism. He created countless paintings centered on the bather theme that have long enthralled me. I recently visited Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence. There I was able to see the landscape that fed his palette: the green of the hills, the lean of the trees, the jagged mountains and the sky.
I came away inspired and hungry to create a bathers series in my own voice, color and form. The human form is a landscape that never tires me. There are always new discoveries to be made and great joy in capturing the figure with a few simple lines.
The Still Life paintings arise from quiet, daily adventures. On Saturdays I have a routine. I go to my neighborhood farmer’s market where I buy a few robust pieces of fruit, a languid leek or a bunch of cheerful flowers. I arrange a still life and do a drawing, a painting, or a sculpture. I discover new shapes from fruit, from flowers and from simple pieces of pottery. After I complete a piece, I eat the fruit or cook the leek.
10. In our digital age what do painting and sculpture give us as art forms?
This is a fantastic time because technology makes the sharing of communication and information so much easier than at any other time in history. The world and all its bounty are but a click away. Nevertheless, the prime function of all artists is still to create something from nothing, to solve problems, to dare to dream ~ and to find ways to realize those dreams.
However slick we get as a society, there is still beauty in work, dignity in sweat, and triumph in confronting things that are difficult. The style and the voices of artists will continue to be as unique as each individual regardless of the advancements of time and technology.
Click on photographs for full-screen slideshow of America Martin's new paintings
Artist America Martin working in her large and light studio in Silverlake, Los Angeles
Bathers, Birds and Flowers Ink on paper 20 x 30 inches and framed 25.5 x 30 inches.
Women Gathering Lantern Flowers Oil and acrylic on canvas 57 x 67 inches.
America Martin photographed at her studio in Los Angeles.
Bathers in Orange and Blue Oil and acrylic on canvas 81.5 x 72 inches.
Bathers Picking Flowers Ink on Paper 30 x 20 inches and framed 36 x 26 inches.
Siren in Sea of Flowers Oil and acrylic on canvas 35 x 78 inches.
Yellow Pitcher and Watermelon Oil and acrylic on canvas 46.5 x 56 inches.
Chrysanthemum and Trumpet Flowers Oil and acrylic with resin on canvas 26 x 20 inches.
Sunshine Man Oil and acrylic on canvas. 48 x 48 inches