Friday, June 15, 2012

Southern Exposure

The Art of Eugene Martin: A Great Concept, the latest exhibition at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, MS, is all colors, so it seems when walking from the main building to the Gallery of African American Art.
Facing the entrance, the largest piece, The Fall of Icarus, 1998, acrylic on canvas, attracts the eyes like a magnet. Technically an iconic piece for the artist with its sharp bright colored, geometrical lines and shapes surrounding a dynamic subject of milder tones and blurry contours, it is an unusually dramatic theme for the painter who is known for his humorous, light, whimsical pieces. Furthermore, unless pressured by museums or galleries, he rarely gave a title to his works to avoid distraction and allow the viewer to see freely. The exhibition's checklist on the catalogue can attest of that with only eight titled works out of thirty-eight.
Starting on the left side of the vast room, a series of four bamboo reed stick pen drawings, made in the early 80's represent a technique used by the artist who produced calligraphic works full of expressions and movements with thin and thick lines. The creatures born from the artist's imagination, surrealist, from another planet, with usually happy and benign expressions, tell several stories when looked at with attention. A similar technique is used with different media for other works like A Great Concept, 1987, which represents a benevolent aquatic monster or the ten colored drawings on the right wall. Made at different periods, from 1970's to 1990's, one of them is about an insect devouring a dog, and several smaller birds ready to devour the insect... this is what I saw. The soft colors, pale orange, light brown, olive green, are in contrast with the bright colors of the acrylic paintings made in 1999-2001. These are pure geometric abstraction, lines, and colors give the mood to the painting, sometimes harmonic, sometimes dissonant. There is always music and rhythm with a rupture, a disturbance, a blurred colored surprise added to the painting, bringing a new dynamic to it and an element of surprise.

With his skills at drawing and painting, the artist uses his imagination to stimulate the viewer. It is like a good book you read and read again, the works become familiar but stay new.
The exhibition can be visited in any order, each piece  tells its own story. What is guaranteed is that more you look, more you see, this is what I like about Eugene Martin's works. 

"Too Slippery", 1981
"Mean and Green", 2000 
"Untitled", acrylic on canvas, 2000

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