Kay Martin: Beyond Evoking Feelings

By Laura Zvonek
Friday, December 17, 2004

This is not one [painting] too many people want in their homes, Kay Martin poignantly declares of Betrayal, her 22 inch by 30 inch acrylic painting. The 40-something artist stands in her sunny studio at her 4-acre home in Austin, Texas that she shares with her chiropractor husband and two pets. One of my friends was going through a divorce, she explains in her poised Australian accent, so there was a lot of symbolism in this particular one.

She points. Here, she says, Shes giving him the finger.

She would be the wife of the cheating husband in the piece ã an abstract fusion of brilliant blues, purples and reds ã and a woman Martin describes as green with envy as [her husband] used to love her the way he now loves the mistress.

But this is only half the story. Betrayals sister, another painting titled Dance of Deception, shows the beginning stages of the aforementioned affair (in the art world, two paintings side-by-side are referred to as a diptych).

Together, these paintings create a synergy of dour different from most of Martins creations in her Couples series. In fact, the majority of her pulsating romances serve up an unabashed celebration of passion and love, not jealousy and hatred. Indeed, Need to be Near ã a gallant synthesis of purples, reds and yellows ã marks the beginning of a committed relationship when the pheromones are going crazy.

Whether its adulterous lovers heated by jealousy or amorous young things dancing on canvas, the brainwave behind the brilliance is the same: Martin saw so few paintings paying tribute to relationships, so she decided to create a romantic fÍte of her own. It used to be in the 30s, you would see paintings of men and women dancing together, touching and being held, she says, brushing the wispy, reddish-brown strands of hair off her make-up free face. Its such a huge, rich topic. You can go on for-EVER I mean, you could create for-EVER, and youd n-EVER do it all!

If Martin painted forever, fans wouldnt complain. Theres sensuality to her paintings, says Betty Skaggs, who owns four of Martins paintings. Two of those pieces were commissioned by Skaggs herself, who reveals, She always let me create the painting, and then she would throw in some ideas.

Martins ideas stretch beyond boundaries. Fiery reds and burning oranges propel her most recent work, although in the past, Martin favored cooler combinations of purples and greens. I wanted to push myself to try something outside of the areas I was comfortable in, she says.

Art lovers are reaping the results. Martins blazing Tuscany paintings have lately caused quite the coup de foudre. Case in point: Tuscany at Sunset sweeps viewers into a glowing red and orange wonderland in Tuscany, complete with a smattering of fruit trees and a magical villa. Martins 1999 trip to Tuscany provided the inspiration, her brush strokes did the rest, and today, Martin longs to go back to the knock-out landscape.

Whats keeping her? She lets out a roaring laugh. My husband lives here, she says. When he retires, I might just suggest it.

Moving to another country isnt a new concept for the ¸ber-traveler. Born in Chicago, she moved to Sydney at age one, packing up again at 13 to move to London (as the daughter of a Ph.D. chemist working for Coca-Cola, she grew accustomed to frequent changes in scenery). At 17, she moved back to Australia, where she graduated valedictorian from East Sydney Technical College with an associate diploma.

At 21, she moved again with her family to Hong Kong, working several hotel jobs, until she moved a year later to complete a Bachelor of Science at the University of Las Vegas.

After a brief stint in Dallas in the early 80s, Martin moved to Austin in 1986 and worked as a meeting planner. Ironically, she didnt even start painting until 1993 (a discouraging art teacher in high school is partly to blame). She could hardly draw, admits Joan Lawson, an Austin painter who would give Martin her first art lesson in 1993. But she just kept going and going. Its been phenomenal.

Sadly, the night she finished her first painting, her father passed away. During the next six months, Martin says, the only time I wasnt sad was when I was painting. Learning the infinitesimal details of the art business came next, and Martin soon began exhibiting her work at various art galleries and shows. In 1999, she dedicated her efforts full-time to painting.

Today, her work extends beyond the tip of a paintbrush. She has been president of the Austin Visual Arts Association, president of the [Austin] Creative Arts Society, and she currently serves as president of Visual Arts United of Austin ã an umbrella group of visual arts organizations with a primary goal of promoting local artists. I know her as a great artist, but I know her even better as a really great community leader,

raves Bruce Willenzik, who organized the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, an Austin art show taking place Dec. 1124 that will feature some of Martins paintings. She brought together everyone in the [Austin] visual arts community.

But Martin remains humble about any accolades ã shes been featured in the top 10 at various art shows. You know, whatever, she muses. There are some people who think the pinnacle of their success is being in a gallery or being in a museum, and thats great, she says. Different people are in art for different reasons.

As for Martins reason? I guess I have a different idea of art, she says. I go into that space of meditation and creation, and my idea is to connect with people through beauty. Not that we dont all have a dark side, but I just see so much of it in the media that I want to express something different for balance.

What Martin expresses is a blitzkrieg of symbolism: Theres the obvious (heart-shaped versus square-shaped heads in Betrayal); the slightly-more-obvious (a wine-colored tongue sticking out of a females mouth in Need to be Near), and then, theres the not-so-obvious (In Martins Candles series, she paints the flickering statues that, according to her website, actually represent people).

An even deeper symbolism in Martins work comes in the form of her paintings textures. Rich layers of acrylic and metallic gold paints and copper leafing make appropriate appearances in her Couples series to capture the complexity of human emotions.

The only drawback to using such elaborate textures comes when her paintings are put on the Internet. They are still magnificent, yet something is lost. Youre eyes sense some sort of color, but its not the same, she says. Its like having a picture of your dog ã its not the same thing as cuddling with up with it.

Its a different level of experience.For more of Kay Martins art visit her site.

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