The Enduring Still Life
The art of the still life, known also by the French word the nature morte, is a subject long favored by artists and is a sustained practice within contemporary visual art making. The versatility of it, as well as the freedom it affords in terms of composition and content has cemented the genre within art history.
Fourth Style wall painting from Herculaneum, Italy, c. 62-69 C.E.
The origins of this painting tradition can be traced back to the Middle Ages, as well as Ancient Greco-Roman art. The still life genre was revitalized again by the Modernists who saw the potential of it as a vehicle to explore subversive, controversial and revolutionary ideas. In Margit Rowell’s catalogue essay for the exhibition Objects of Desire: Modern Still Life (Museum of Modern Art, New York 1997), she links the changing importance of still life to the development of the avant-garde. Morandi’s pre-minimalist bottle arrangements, Cezanne’s peaches, and Picasso’s Cubist guitar compositions are just a few of the avant-garde interpretations of the classic genre.
Paul Cézanne, Still Life: Plate of Peaches (Assiette de pêches ), 1839.
Still life still resonates; it persists and affects the conception, production, and presentation of contemporary art. The formal tradition of still life has persevered despite tendencies to forge the new by breaking with tradition. Offering the parameters for formal investigation and providing a ground from which to rethink the way images and objects are read, the basic conventions of the still life genre have smoothly transitioned into modernity.
Artists today are using the still life to investigate contemporary issues while paying homage to the genre’s themes of perception, reality, and mortality. The tradition continues its storied legacy in the work of America Martin as her works highlight the enduring resonance of the still life.
America Martin’s work is both exuberant and refined. Working with her chosen mediums, America brings life and presence to her paintings. Martin delves into new approaches, materials and techniques with intensity and passion, while keeping a keen sense of the art historical lexicon.
Martin continues the tradition of reinventing and appropriating the genre in her artistic practice. America applies a similar approach to both her figurative as well as still life subjects, emphasizing line and texture in her own iconic and visionary style.
Playing on the dichotomy of rendering static life with ebullient energy, America Martin’s still life compositions establish a paradox for the genre- that nothing is still. Depicting space, color, and line to imply multiple planes, Martin’s ordinary objects and set in a simple arrangement contemplate form and challenge perception, ultimately placing conceptual worth that extends beyond the subject matter of her still lifes.