One World Trade Center’s Lobby Gets Two Massive Brushstrokes
For the past two months, the lobby of the south entrance to One World Trade Center has served as the studio of artist Donald Martiny. The North Carolina-based artist was commissioned to create two giant sculptural brushstroke paintings for permanent installation there, and so he went to work right in front of the people that traverse the building daily.
While the brushstroke motif has been embraced (with varying degrees of irony) over the decades by artists ranging from Roy Lichtenstein to James Nares, Martiny takes a singular approach. Each smear of paint is full of flecks of multiple colors, giving the impression that they were created with massive paintbrushes. In actuality, Martiny doesn’t use a paintbrush at all, or even a palette knife or any other painting tool—he makes these works entirely by hand. He also has embedded them with meaning beyond their brushstroke forms. Lenape (2015) was named after the Native American tribe that once occupied much of New York and New Jersey along the lower Hudson River Valley, a frequent source of inspiration for Martiny. The painting consists of a collection of violet, light pink, and sherbet orange brushstrokes. Unami (2015), meanwhile, a thick layer of lime green covering swaths of cobalt blue and muddled white paint, was named after a now-extinct language spoken by the Lenape.
To create the highly palpable textures of his sculptures, Martiny mixes polymers and pigments until he reaches a desirable viscosity. He then dries the surface using industrial fans and, finally, affixes the finished work to sheets of alumite. He once described his artistic practice as “a dance trapped in paint,” and his dynamic, gestural works are surely a testament to this active process. He has also described his works as self portraits, because, in his words, “brushstrokes are very specific to an artist.” Indeed, the impasto lines, swirled streaks, and overwhelmingly tactile quality found along the surfaces of Unami and Lenape reflect Martiny’s physical movements.
The scale of these works is impressive, and allows visitors to experience surface details quite intimately. Light passes through the building’s soaring lobby windows at varying angles, casting shadows across the sculptures and influencing how each hue appears throughout the day. The installation is, in effect, an investigation of natural light and its impact on texture, color, and form.
Martiny characterizes his work as “lyrical, abstract expressionist paintings.” While they are quite painterly, they also follow the tradition of painting-as-object, reimagining the process of painting in three dimensions.