Fred Martin, driving force in Bay Area art scene, gets his due with exhibit
Published June 18, 2014
By Kimberly Chun
While Jack Kerouac and other like-minded free spirits were hightailing it onto the open road in the ’50s, it was San Francisco itself – in all its decaying, dilapidated splendor – that inspired Bay Area artist, writer and educatorFred Martin to get behind the wheel, and make the works that eventually surfaced at the maiden reading of Allen Ginsberg‘s “Howl” at Six Gallery in 1955.
“I was making oil paintings, sketches or landscapes of San Francisco’s Western Addition before it got renewed. All the decaying, great old mansions there – I had an intense psychic correspondence to them,” the San Francisco Art Institute professor emeritus recounts from the Oakland studio where he still paints regularly. “I was driving around and making lots of sketches, using the steering wheel as an easel at times.”
A kind of synergistic direction took hold, Martin remembers: “I noticed that I always hear sounds in my head and sentences telling me what I’m doing. I’m talking to myself all the time and painting, and I began to let the words and images go rushing together; and after a bit, I began to just use collage as a way of doing it, using scraps of newspaper. I wanted to travel so badly, so I got guidebooks of London from 1910 and used those.”
Those late ’50s collages, embellished at times with snatches of long-ago Chronicle newsprint, led Martin to travel “from being a random stud to being a husband and father and householder and ultimately working at SFAI as, basically, a builder. A builder of the community of artists there.”
Long a driving force in the Bay Area art scene, as the former director then dean of academic affairs at SFAI and later as a columnist for ArtWeek, Martin, 87, will receive some of his due in “Fred Martin and Friends in the Fifties: Oh How Much It Hurt,” curated by John Held Jr.
Moody landscapes by Martin from that exploratory period, like “Untitled (Island)” (1955), will hang alongside works by artist friends such as Jay DeFeo, Roy De Forest and Six Gallery co-founders Deborah Remington and Wally Hedrick, pieces drawn mainly from Martin’s private collection.
“They were close friends of mine. We traded paintings,” Martin says. Still, “we all lived in our monasteries, at least I felt that way. It wasn’t like today where communication across the nation and continents is instantaneous.”
The exhibit, too, will make the leap from midcentury San Francisco to today, with four Martin works from this year – “there’s a 60-year hold in the middle,” he says mirthfully.
One gave the show its title, whereas the others concern “germination and men and women and sex and birth,” the artist says. “Now that I’m 87 years old, everything’s circling around.”