Flow by Paul Martinson

Electric Metamorphosis, 2014, Oil on board, 1220mm x 1000mm


Paul Martinson

22 October to 15 November 2014

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. Flow demonstrates the artist’s personal, liberal approach to painting that allows a free flow of imagery and ideas, while retaining the drawing-based figurative style which has persisted throughout his career as a painter.

Martinson’s surreal and poetic world is populated by enigmatic creatures, with very human poses and conscious facial expressions indicating the artist’s anthropomorphic references.   The Venus figure, an archetype of female beauty, often accompanies these animal forms; entwined in a huddle-like embrace, or else floating together in a strange celestial dance.

Martinson has been painting since the 1980s and was commissioned by Te Papa Tongarewa in 2006 to paint extinct birdlife, resulting in the seminal publication Extinct Birds of New Zealand.  As a consequence of this major project, Martinson began to seek a more subjective working style, abandoning his earlier reliance on research and objective imagery and focussing on personal concerns, interests and philosophies.  Given the prevalence of symbolism in his recent works, it is no surprise that Freudian psychoanalysis and the Surrealist notion of Psychic Automatism form the basis of Martinson’s artistic philosophy.

The movement towards the symbolic and the establishment of this intuitive style has given rise to experimentation in media and materials.  Adept in both watercolour and oil painting, Martinson constantly creates opportunities to emphasise 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 many of these works we see colour treated in a symbolic manner, with the deep green and black tones used for emotional effect rather than for their realism.  While these works demonstrate increased subtlety in terms of palette and composition, they are more complicated in terms of the artist’s engagement with the complexities of light as a salient feature in itself.

With Flow, Paul Martinson utilises these formal developments to enable the exploration of universal conditions and anxieties. The tensions between real and imagined, human and animal, light and dark, are borne out in these works, which address notions of agency and power and evoke various psychological states. This encourages a deeper engagement with the work as the viewer 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

Lives: Masterton

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 - Runner Up (1994)

Collections: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

Public Exhibitions: 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 toExtinct 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

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