In an interview last year, Los Angeles-based artist America Martin said, “By nature I am drawn to enduring classics. I’d rather read Portuguese poetry than watch reality TV”—and her art is no exception. Take a look at any of her enormous figurative paintings and you’ll see hints of classic Modernists, particularly Picasso and Matisse, in the free-flowing contours, large eyes, and bold colors. Her adept and exuberant use of line is especially of note; she explains, “In my work there is always line, and always a reverence for what I’m seeing...it’s the line that chooses the story to tell, and that’s the fun: to create new shapes, new stories, with just a few lines.” Now in her new exhibition “YES,” at JoAnne Artman Gallery, the artist debuts works from three new series—“Native Americans,” “Bathers,” and “Still Lifes”—each with its own story.
“Native Americans”: This series developed from a pow-wow that Martin witnessed in Taos, New Mexico, where she was moved by the reverence for ancestry, time, and ritual. “These celebrations are as important as the seasons, for they mark time by adding punctuation to our lives,” she says. Painted from memory, these striking bust-length portraits are representations of the many people she met at the pow-wow; bright square canvases painted with cool blues and ripe oranges, they describe proud Native American personages with intricate headdresses, jewelry, and clothing.
“Bathers”: Inspired by a visit to Paul Cézanne’s home while in Aix-en-Provence, Martin turned to her favorite series by the Post-Impressionist master, “The Bathers,” for inspiration. Her own series take Cézanne’s compositions and poses as a point of departure to create loud, graceful figures through layers of her signatures lines and bright swathes of color. Martin explains, “I wanted to echo the grandness, the sweeping lines, the color, the dimension—but in my own voice.”
“Still Lifes”: Martin refers to her still life paintings as “cheerful renditions,” where she can “take liberties with color and form.” These paintings offer snapshots from her everyday life, depicting an orange slice before she eats it or wildflowers she collected on a hike; using fresh subject matter she injects life into an often stale genre.
“YES” is on view at JoAnne Artman Gallery, Feb. 6th–Mar. 31st, 2014.