An abiding interest in the surreal and the symbolic has seen Paul Martinson shift away from realism in search of a style that expresses the poetry of the human mind. While retaining a drawing-based figurative style, Martinson has embraced a personal, liberal approach to painting that allows a free flow of imagery and ideas.
Martinson’s compositions are surreal and poetic; a bird in flight within a closed glass jar, a fish swimming in a water-filled light bulb. Where human figures appear, they are rendered as archetypal forms—faceless, marble-skinned Venus figures in sensuous, surreal contexts. Given the prevalence of symbolism in these works, it is no surprise that Freudian psychoanalysis and the Surrealist notion of Psychic Automatism form the basis of his artistic philosophy. In the absence of reason, Martinson is free to work without the censure of his conscious mind.
The movement towards the symbolic has seen Martinson extend his painting technique in new ways, emphasising the emotional properties of colour and light as well as formal composition. The unparalleled attention to representational detail remains obvious in his depictions of birds and other animals and the textural range of his paintings creates a rich, lifelike effect. In new works such as Jam Jar Journey, however, we see colour treated in a symbolic manner, with the deep green and black tones used for emotional effect rather than for their realism.
Recent works have demonstrated Martinson’s continuing experimentation with new media and materials, which has afforded him more opportunities to experiment with scale, composition and style. The use of watercolour paint allows the creation of rich, evocative backgrounds and expressive variations of colour density. The use of aluminium and wood as media also creates a deeper variety of tonal and textural qualities throughout his work.
A key aspect of Martinson’s practice is his realisation of the importance of light as a symbolic element, as well as one of his primary tools for the creation of the Gothic mood of many of his paintings. As his works become increasingly symbolic, they also demonstrate a greater subtlety in terms of colour and tone, as well as a mastery over the complexities of light.
Each of these formal developments has assisted Martinson’s exploration of universal conditions and anxieties. The tensions between real and imagined, human and animal, light and dark, are borne out in his works, which address notions of agency and power and evoke various psychological states. This encourages a deeper engagement with the work as the reader is invited to speculate on the intellectual or conceptual theme of the work while instinctively connecting with it on an emotional level.
Born: Palmerston North
Education: NZ Certificate of Science in Biology, Palmerston North Polytechnic
Awards/Distinctions: Wai Art Awards - Runner Up (2008); Montana Book Awards, Extinct Birds of New Zealand - Finalist (2007); Norsewear Art Awards - Finalist (2003); North Shore City Art Awards - Merit Award (1994)
Collections: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton; Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Wairarapa; Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton
Public Exhibitions: Sleeper Dreamer Space Adventure, Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History (2017); Figures in the Landscape, Waiheke Art Gallery, Auckland (2012); The Inimitable Mister Hopkins: The Barry Hopkins Art Collection, Waikato Museum of Art & History, Hamilton (2009); Mind Games: An exhibition of Surrealism in Aotearoa, Hastings City Art Gallery (2009); Wairarapa Review, Aratoi, Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Masterton (2007); New Work (accompanying exhibition to Extinct Birds of New Zealand book launch), Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington (2006); Wairarapa Review, Aratoi - Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Masterton (2005); Crosslinks, Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures, Wellington (2002); Huia, Te Manawa, Palmerston North (1993)
Publications/Articles: 'Art seen' by James Dignan, Otago Daily Times, Feb 2012; ‘Bird’s-eye view’ by Lorna Thornber, Her, Nov 2010, pp 116-119; ‘More than a touch of strangeness’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Oct 2010; Sanderson, Kylie, Tamara Darragh and Kim Atherfold, The Artists: 21 Practitioners in New Zealand Contemporary Art c. 2009-2011, Auckland: Beatnik Publishing, 2009, pp 48-51; Atherfold, Kim, Venus in Free Fall: The Art of Paul Martinson 2004-2008, Dissertation as part of Post-Graduate Diploma Art History, University of Auckland, 2009;Tennyson, Alan and Paul Martinson, Extinct Birds of New Zealand, Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2006; Martinson, Paul, New Zealand Birds, Auckland: Grantham House, 1991; Gill, Brian and Paul Martinson, New Zealand's Extinct Birds, Auckland: Random Century, 1991