The visit of the artist's studio is always a privilege and a few weeks ago, I was able to drive to Lafayette, LA, and spend some time looking at Eugene J. Martin's work at his home.
The presence of the artist (July 24, 1938- January 1, 2005) is still felt in the house situated in a quiet neighborhood. The artist's works are pouring out of the studio and invading the house with their colors.
Overwhelmed at first, I looked at the paintings, drawings, collages and was amazed by their quality. One would expect some trials, "doodles", "left overs". The works appear to be created effortlessly, already composed by the artist before being laid on the canvas, smaller during hard times, on paper, bigger during fat times, on canvas, without hesitation, like brain and hand were one. The studio is left intact, quiet with paintings, neatly organized, drawings, stacks of CDs with the artist's preferred music and his ashes on a desk.
It is eerie, but a conversation with Suzanne, his wife, who can recall many anecdotes about the artist, brings me back to reality. The painter lived for his art. Rarely distracted, he would paint almost daily and creation was his mission. He was totally immersed in his work, translating his internal happiness.
He was initially living in Washington, DC, then Lafayette, LA, and was never seeking the limelight ... he did not have time. Some artists live to promote themselves, Eugene Martin was just too busy working.
I recently viewed two exhibitions: "Beyond Black" at the LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge and "Dancing String Bean: Paintings and Drawings from Eugene Martin" at the New Orleans African American Museum.
During this visit, I discovered Eugene Martin's collages, made with pieces of his own works rearranged for another message. This is where the "discarded" works find a second life. Collages are most of the time one level, feel second-hand, kind of lazy compositions. Eugene Martin's collages are different. They are visually and intellectually challenging: new perspectives, depth and three-dimensional works.
Suzanne has published several books about the artist whose works are the result of his drive, his self discipline, his creativity. His art is so much him that the artist is still present.
Like remembering a song, Eugene Martin's works are now alive in my head with their colors and shapes. There is no better way to know an artist than to visit his (her) sanctuary.