The Eyes

The Eyes

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Meeting Knox Martin

This piece was originally written and published at in April 2008 following my first visit with master artist, Knox Martin.

On a recent afternoon, my partner and I were invited to meet the artist Knox Martin. Martin has been active in the New York art scene since the early 1950s connected to and influencing many of the artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement exploding at the time. At age 85, he continues to teach at the Art Students League and pursue his own artistic endeavors.

We arrived at his office at 11:00 a.m. with a large bouquet of flowers, meticulously chosen and arranged by my partner who is also an artist. Martin opened the door, looked at us and said, "You're both too tall!" and then slammed the door. Before we had a chance to react, Martin quickly opened the door again, and with a big grin, invited us inside. My partner handed the flowers to Martin, who promptly handed them to Gaby Ryan, Knox's assistant for over 10 years, then groused, "Oh, great! Now I have to paint the [expletive] things!" We all laughed.

We sat down with Martin and talked about ourselves very briefly, but we really were there just to spend time with him and let him do the talking. After regaling us with a few encounters with other artists and collectors, he invited us into his studio. We were overwhelmed! When we first entered the studio, Martin handed me a postcard from a nearby table that announced his 2003 Caprichos show at the Janos Gat Gallery with one of his paintings on the front. I immediately said, "Oh, my God, this is 'Concert'!" Visibly impressed that I knew the painting, Concert in the Park, at first sight, he told me to keep the card.

A review of the Caprichos show in Art in America stated: 
"Shown simply pinned to the gallery walls, the drawings are exhilarating in their freely drawn complex line, moments of vivid color and relation of form to the layering of space. They easily suggest the hallucinatory, storytelling landscapes of Mexican bark-paper drawings. Martin included his Concert in the Park (1955), a large, oil on canvas, roughly 7 by 12 feet that is allegorical and thoroughly painterly."
I stood in the center of the studio turning around and around, taking in everything Martin had tacked up or leaned against the walls in various stages of completion. He caught us with tears in our eyes admiring his work as we did many times throughout our time with him. Martin recited poetry, talked about teaching, his life, music, gourmet cooking, and, of course, art. It was amazing to receive this rich and colorful American art history so directly from a source that was part of it. Gaby was with us the entire time, sometimes engaged with us, but mostly she shadowed him, and helped him find things he wanted to show us. Around lunchtime, she brought out Brie, olives, flat-bread, nuts, and hot green tea to share with Martin.

We discussed his mural projects including the 12-story tall Venus, painted in 1970 on the side of the Bayview Women's Correctional Facility at 19th Street and West Side Highway now being obliterated, covered by a new building being constructed on a once-empty lot next door, and the whaling project mural symbolizing the abhorrent tragedy of commercial whaling. The latter is meant to serve as a vehicle to raise awareness of this significant threat to whales around the world. The funding is in place, yet the project is currently on hold as there is opposition to it being painted on the side of a school due to the violent act it depicts.

Martin sat in a rolling chair for most of our visit and he would reel himself closer to each of us individually or together at different times adding emphasis to the points he was making. His spirit, creativity, and love of life were intoxicating. The brief time we were with Martin, his warmth and generosity made us feel like we were the only people on his planet. He received a couple of phone calls during our visit and he would answer in a silly voice and playfully pretend to be someone other than himself.

After a little over three hours with Martin, we got up to excuse ourselves and say our goodbye. We asked if he minded if we took a couple of photos with him and he seemed excited that we asked. Martin asked Gaby to pull something out to show us and they unrolled one of his Caprichos works. The stunning piece made our heads spin! We had never seen anything like it. Tearfully, we hugged and thanked both Martin and Gaby for their tremendous hospitality. It was an unforgettable encounter with a man with a long and distinguished career. I can't wait to see wait he does next!

Knox Martin with Concert in the Park in his studio | 1955
©Knox Martin/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY


Gaby R. said...

Wonderful writing, Cary!
A great day!

Dahlia said...

Just saw this and loved the description. Fabuloso!!!!! Olivia

James Brock said...

Nice. Yes! "A Great Day!"