Eugene J. Martin April 28 to June 30 2023 Galerie Zlotowski 20, rue de Seine 75006 Paris
Galerie Zlotowski is delighted to present in its space on the rue de Seine the first monographic exhibition dedicated to the African-American painter Eugene J. Martin, from 28 April to 30 June 2023. The exhibition brings together major works by this prolific artist, including creations in ink, bamboo calamus and graphite pencil as well as, for the very first time in France, acrylics on paper from the 1980s and 1990s. As part of its commitment to highlighting 20th century artistic figures, Galerie Zlotowski has launched a major project to rediscover the luminous, surprisingly free and joyful work of Eugene J. Martin.
Eugene J. Martin was born in 1938 in Washington, D.C. and had a difficult childhood. The son of a poor jazz musician and a mother he lost at an early age, he was separated from his family, abused and shuffled around in foster homes from which he escaped several times. He was attracted to drawing from a very early age and followed his vocation unwaveringly, despite the difficulties associated with racial segregation in the US. He attended the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, D.C. from 1960 to 1963. He began his career by drawing and selling his pieces on the street or in cafés.
During this period, he became fascinated by the emblematic figures of modern art such as Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee and Miró, whom he always felt a close connection. Some of his patrons noticed the sincere creativity of this unclassifiable and sensitive artist with a solitary temperament. But it was his meeting in 1982 with Suzanne Fredericq, who was to become his wife and unconditional admirer, that gave him the stability and serenity that allowed the painter to develop his poetry, his atypical imagery and his talent as a colourist. His figurative beginnings soon gave way to what he himself called Satirical Abstraction. Inspired by cubism and surrealism, but constructed according to his original and singular vision, Martin’s compositions are strange, biomorphic and imbued with a humour and freshness from which he would never stray.
This elusive artist was above all a free spirit. Away from the market and its strategies, he was is less concerned with selling than with creating. Martin always saw art as his sole guide. This pure artistic integrity, devoid of any political or societal commitment, was the force that sustained him as an artist until his death in Louisiana in 2005. His work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions in the United States.
Among a selection of key works, the exhibition brings together untitled works from the Oval Drawings series (1971-1974), colourful creations inscribed in a detached oval on a white background, which are surprising for being so far removed from the dominant trends of the time.
Another series, called the Bamboo Drawings, is executed on paper with a bamboo calamus (a stylus carved from bamboo) in ink of different colours. With these simple means, the artist expresses an impressive subtlety of features, forms and chromatic shades in the range of greys, blues, ochres and browns. A collection of collages, made in the 1980s and 1990s, includes works with resolutely free, playful geometries and extraordinarily luminous assemblages.
The acrylics on paper produced in the 1990s also presented in the exhibition demonstrate the artist’s extreme mastery of constructions, the vibrant palette of his colours and his unpredictable apparitions, on the tenuous, sensitive line between representation and abstraction. Recently, a selection of Martin’s drawings was shown by the gallery at the Drawing Now Art Fair 2022, at the Carreau du Temple, in Paris.
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