Knox Martin

(b. 1923)

From 1957 to about 1964, the spirit of art in New York City was moving in directions for which Abstract Expressionism had not prepared us. By 1965, the strokes, swipes, drips, and splatters of New York painting had given way to cool, laconic representations of the most ordinary of ordinary objects. It was a transformation in artistic culture in which intellectual rewards replaced, or at least supplemented, visual ones, and the whole philosophical face of art was beginning to disclose itself in a particularly vivid way.

I saw Knox Martin's paintings as embodying this transformative moment. In them, I thought, the tension between the two rival philosophies of art could be felt. the way I saw them: they appeared at first glance to be collages, made of large, irregular, overlapping swatches of patterned cloth. Some of the swatches were striped, some appeared to be decorated with circles. It must be conceded that stripes and circles belong to the vocabulary of one kind of abstract art, while the irregular shapes, which felt as though they had been torn from bolts of material, belonged to another.

So one might properly claim that Martin was synthesizing an expressionist abstraction with a geometrical one. For me, however, Knox's stripes and circles evoked the life of the circus: the striped tents, the loudly patterned costume of clowns. And Martin's colors—pistachio, raspberry, banana—were festive and impudent. That is why I felt that the paintings referred to vernacular reality, as much so as Campbell Soup cans or Coca Cola bottles. The circus was a recurring theme in modernist art, and I thought it appropriate for late modernist painting to reduce the circus to patterned rags expressive of its raucous gaiety.

– Arthur C. Danto, 1998

2003

Caprichos

As a child, Knox Martin lived across the street from the Hispanic Museum at 155th Street in NYC, where, for years, he copied in his notebooks etchings and drawings by Goya that were on exhibition. It's been sixty-seven years that Los Caprichos has fascinated Knox Martin. Reviewing the artist's first one-man show at the Charles Egan Gallery for the New York Times in 1954, Stuart Preston wrote: It is in his ecstatic pen and brush drawings of women that Martin shows himself to be a draftsman of exceptional power and assurance; some are hastily done, but even the most lively scribbles throb with a particular intensity, both visual and sensational, that causes one to remember that Spanish warmth counts a lot for him, and that the blood of Goya is in his veins.

In 1955, Willem de Kooning sent Meyer Schapiro to Knox Martin's studio to see Concert in the Park. Martin remembers, that an enthusiastic Schapiro told him things he thought only other painters knew. Schapiro understood that the artist's latest canvas complemented his more metaphorical work, and left with the friendly warning of "don't neglect this side."

This side is the thousands of drawings Knox Martin has done over the years, and they add up to Caprichos. In Caprichos Knox Martin creates a new kind of space. As Arthur Danto wrote of Martin's recent works in 1998: The same parameters must be worked as those required by the earlier paintings. But the images have gotten richer and the philosophy of painting deeper, and the experience of constituting the works through close visual reading is as rewarding as contemporary art provides.

Inquiries welcome. Exhibition catalogue available. To find out more, visit the artist’s website.