Barry Martin is one of the most interesting artists that I have ever met. He is not only a great conversation starter but has a good taste in humor. An amazing person full of confidence and happiness, the originator of interactive installational kinetic art, and a very talented chess player. He’s also an artist that creates in multiple steps. It feels like he is not walking but flying in the streets. Barry and I first met at the D Contemporary gallery, London. From the first day, I was inspired by him and his passion for art. I was thinking about how such a talented person can be so passionate about other artists and their works from different countries and backgrounds. Our friendship started from this background. I wanted to know Barry better as an artist and he actually inspired me to start writing a blog. My mission is to introduce this artist and his personality to everyone because he is that person who needs to be spoken about. After reading his book and being at his studio I still could not fully understand him.He is a really optimistic and spontaneous person but at the same time, he is a really classy, logical thinker who thinks ahead. He is just like his art. I saw a few glass sculptures at his studio. It was really interesting to me because I have never seen glass in that kind of way before. He broke all of the stereotypes that glass is usually associated as a decorative object.In his studio, you can see paintings, pictures, different sculptures. I used to think about how someone can be so disorganized, but after a while, I understood that Barry knows how to control chaos, and this is one of his talents. When I first saw his recent art I thought that it was a metal swing from my childhood. I guess Barry would not know about that because in Soviet times kids used to have exactly the same swings in their backyards. His art is like a cake because it has a lot of different layers. Looking into it through an Eastern European context makes me think that he uses game elements no matter what kind of viewer is watching him. I remember one funny story when I actually pushed one of these metal plates, his latest sculpture by accident, and it felt down. I started panicking while Barry told me that this accident is like a performance. This sculpture has a lot of energy, because of the movement the plates make giving rise to a really interesting outside environment and atmosphere. You just feel like you are in a dream, and you start moving together with the plates. It is like meditation. Another aspect is color. Barry is not avoiding color and does everything perfectly. These metal constructions look really natural. When I asked him about the color he smiled at me. I understood that just like the glass ‘decorative’ objects, there is more to them than that. I have written only about a few of his works but, there are many more. Barry Martin’s studio is in a really beautiful place in London next to it there is a very beautiful Palladian Villa museum, Chiswick house, where two of his works are exhibited. When I saw them I could not believe that these are the same artist! Barry is a rebel. When I saw his pictures from when he was younger I saw a spark in his eyes which have led him to be mentally tough throughout his life. He knew how to stay a true artist and not become a commercial freak. Even though he is standing next to people like Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst, he never looks down on others. This artist experienced one of the most interesting art periods, but he still knows how to make art for today’s generation. If someone asked me what is contemporary art today I would absolutely remember Barry Martin as someone who is not overwhelmed by time, and as an artist has had to learn quickly. He has a really clear mind and goals that show his passion for art and life. Thinking about which questions for him made me overthink a lot because I wanted to make this interview interesting and meaningful.
Can you describe your art work?
My work always has something to do with movement, whether it’s optical or real, in two-dimensions or three-dimensions, and time, the great developer.
What inspires and motivates you to do art?
Almost everything has a relevance in some way or another, to everything else. Occasionally I have a ‘Eureka’ moment when I can suddenly see how something connects with something else I’ve been thinking about, or working with. This accumulative understanding usually gives me strength and courage to proceed with creating the art works. I speak in the plural, as usually, I prefer to make a number of works that fold out of each other. Just recently, for example, I finished working on a series of A1 sized collages, numbering 40 in all. When I felt I had come to the end of that series of works I stopped. I had worked on them for just over two years.
Which one of your own art pieces do you prefer the most?
That’s a difficult question for me because a number of works have been significant at the time of making, with all the realisations, aims, levels of understanding, direction, intentions, awareness, meanings, and so on, that form any one moment or period, a kind of self-created zeitgeist, being seemingly and convincingly melded into the works, transfigured into the art. In time, development, invention, and meetings, this shifts, but hopefully fits, and fulfills the next periods of work and creativity. There are many works that are the expression of the particular time in which I made them, and which seemed to fulfill my expectation of them at that time and period, and continue to do so when I’m reacquainted with them at a later date. This is a shifting paradox though, as sometimes when I look back at some works, they don’t seem to live up to my earlier expectations, and then I have doubts about my own critical evaluation. This is a continuing story, and is for me an important one, in building a self-critical framework that I can rely on, a sort of honesty box that only works for you if you don’t cheat it! Doubts are just as important as reaffirmations, because they, introduce questions, and the analysis of why there is a change in attitude, from good and preferred, to doubtful? I don’t, therefore, have one work I prefer the most at any one time, or at any time – there are many works. For example, an optical and kinetic relief work of mine from 1964/5, titled, ‘ Black and White Relief’, that used spheres floated in front of 130 cms. x 130 cms. white painted back, wooden support ground, and painted with 15 cms. circles, using blue-black motor car paint, had white spheres arranged in such a way that no matter where a viewer stopped to look at the work, the spheres appeared perspectively to focus onto the viewer’s position. This was a reverse perspective to the normal use of perspective and gave the viewer a sense of being in a space, between themselves and the wall. An interactive space that moved and developed when they moved. This was, I believe, the first artwork to use reverse perspective as a major compositional component. The work was shown in numerous exhibitions at the time, and Bridget Riley, the artist, who was on a panel of selectors for one exhibition it was in, particularly liked it. Several artists have taken up this idea following on from mine. The spheres could also physically move, as they were mounted 15 cms. in front of the board using materials usually used in watches the wind caught them or blown they created an interactive frisson to space by moving, but returned to their original positions when the breeze ceased.
If you weren’t an artist what profession would you choose?
I did ponder upon the idea of becoming a jet pilot, as I was in the Air Cadet Training Corps when I was at school. But I was good at art and made a decision to go and study at Art School after doing my ‘A’ Levels at Brockley County Grammar School in London. I achieved 3 ‘A’ levels, and 5 GCE O levels.
What inspires you?
Practically everything I take an interest in. I am a polymath and I like to investigate fully, or as much as I can, including the interconnectivity of everything. Outer space and space travel is riveting stuff!
What is your biggest fear?
Having made a commitment to something and not being able to see it through to its finale. And, having the belief to see it through withered away for various reasons. I hope that this belief in continuity never dies!
How do you deal with criticism?
Truly constructive criticism from any source is welcomed, however much it may turn events on their head. But there is too much negativity around these days and comments from people who really don’t know the history of the subject, or cant be bothered to check their facts, or have the ability to use their own eyes in discernment. Many critics and art historians today work from a basis of 2nd. or 3rd. hand knowledge, and that’s if we’re lucky and at best! They are led to believe those are the facts, when often they aren’t. They get their degrees and doctoral awards and go into the world questionless, as though they own it, conceptually that is. They also and often aren’t interested in what really happened, or who influenced who. Part of the problem is the commercial art galleries who employ them, and who don’t want the status quo of their own gallery artists questioned, or the ‘rocking of their boat’ since this can influence profits! This is a self-perpetuating movement in its own ‘right’ and a contagious disease of the eye and mind!
What are your ideas for your upcoming art work?
To continue to explore and discover moments in space/time continuum, that is exciting and original, and to find ways of putting that excitement into formats that inspire and excite a contemporary audience.
Tell us the beginning of your artist journey.
Two moments stand out as defining. The first instigated, perhaps instilled a sense of curiosity, and an ongoing perennial appetite for asking questions, when at the age of two years old a V2 rocket landed on a terrace of 12 houses killing 18 people near to where I was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom, in 1945. .I woke from my sleep by a loud bang and shaking of the house, it was mid-day and the daylight into the room was good. I was terrified at first looking up at the ceiling, but then curiosity took over when I saw the ceiling fracture into small jig-saw type pieces, the zig-jag line between the shapes moving slowly at first across the ceiling, speeding up as they spread outwards to the edges, where the walls met it. Everything stopped then, and for a moment I was eyes wide-open with wonder until I realized the shapes were becoming larger! I couldn’t understand why this was, it was a question, until I suddenly realized they were getting larger because the plaster pieces had detached themselves from the ceiling proper and were about to fall onto me! This all must have happened in a moment, although my remembrance of it seems to be in slow motion, and my curiosity and questioning turned to horror and fear as the plaster-covered me, and with the dust, I inhaled and weight of plaster onto my chest I started to suffer breathing difficulties. Luckily an uncle had rushed upstairs after the explosion had settled and recovered me from the bed. I feel in hindsight I would have asphyxiated had he not rescued me. This is my first image I can remember in standing my life. The image of the planar whole, the ceiling surface disintegrating into parts, apart from nurturing curiosity and questions, must also be instrumental in being restated in some of my optical paintings and reliefs in the mid-sixties, and even the pointillist paintings that preceded them! The second defining moment came at the age of 9 years when an uncle, ( a different uncle to the one above), challenged me to a painting contest. An aunt was coming to visit later that day, and the contest was that we each painted a picture without signing it and asking her to judge which one of the paintings she thought was the best. She chose mine, much to my uncle’s annoyance, ( he was a lovely uncle!), but to great delight for me! I felt substantiated by my success and that fate had decided my future as being artistic and as an artist!
What do you need to become an artist, painter or sculptor?
Well, I think anyone can become an artist, painter or sculptor if they have the will and tenacity to follow it through. Whether they are good at it or not, to begin with, isn’t the issue since it requires the development of a self- critical faculty within them, and this needs time and input to develop. Some artists develop quicker than others and it’s a pity when talented artists who don’t believe they are’ making’ it, look at their colleagues who are succeeding at it in the marketplace and then decide to quit. Often the late developers have more to give, and their work has more gravitas and meaningful expression. Staying the course is part of being an artist.
What is the dessert of your life?
Having passed through the middle bit of my life as the artist I see the same things coming round again for the second or third time. The same paintings, sculptures installations etc., except they are by different artists each time, and usually younger. They are mostly inferior to the archetypes of the style they are in and add little to what we already know and have experienced, from the former original artists’ works. This is amusing but ultimately sad, that many younger artists are not better informed, and agencies that should know better do little to correct the situation. Hubris and nonsensical style can be great if mixed at the right time and in the right proportions, but ‘ look-at-me- look-at-me’ non-stop, is wearing very thin when 3rd. hand recipes keep being served up as though they’ve never been seen before!
What is your greatest achievement in art?
Probably developing a wide consciousness based on both empirical and a priori involvements. Art has been the springboard for a conscious reflection on the way I live, think, see and act. It’s almost as though with its engagement I’ve been able to construct a laboratory of being, in which I’ve been lucky to live and thrive, in trying out methodologies in action and time, events, colour, matter, space etc. giving me an installational sense of the rich possibilities I can achieve through life as art, and which every time extends my range of sensibilities, and an understanding of other peoples’ struggles and achievements in art, but also in their lives.
What do you think about the future of contemporary art?
Today, what passes as contemporary art has changed a great deal in my lifetime, and one aspect of that change is its notorious descent into being no more than a vehicle for the exchange of money, where the vehicle has little or no aesthetic value, and is only as good as a share or bond that goes up or down in monetary value according to the buyers or sellers willing to pay or sell it through the art brokers ( can hardly call them fine art galleries), and auctioneering houses. Without going into the desultory details of the contemporary art market here, I would say their effects on contemporary art have been catastrophically appalling, with so-called high-end art works,(we all know which artists’ works are being referred to here, even the muggins do who have forked out millions for such dead art!), with little intrinsic value per se being batted about like ping-pong balls on the world’s art markets, and investors rubbing their hands on making millions and others crying into their Krug champagne when losing millions when the shine has worn off and fairly quickly on some of these artists works) The effect of this mega-pecunary madness has had devastating effects on art schools education, and the ambitions of many young artists has been thwarted who have been ‘taught’ not to see for themselves but only to ‘see’ art as a money making venture, and not as a valuable positive addition to culture, human understanding and a better and deeper social structure. Instead of the divisive, fractured and tormented narcissistic environment presently served up as the norm! The future of contemporary art has to shift away from these pecuniary and devastatingly lowbrow machinations, currently paraded as hip and with it.
The most beautiful place?
Probably deep inside the mind, especially if its someone else’s mind, whom you deeply respect and care for.
Which one would you choose and why, being lonely or being around people?
You can be lonely even around people, especially if the people aren’t open, friendly or communicative. In reality, I like both. Being an artist is a lonely occupation, that is how it is ! To get something done, you and you alone have to make the decision. In the performing arts artists rely upon one another to make the play, dance, symphony etc. succeed, but the composer, director, writer, choreographer etc. have to make major decisions themselves, and that is a lonely place to be, even there! I like gregarious activities, but I also like being alone in my studio, thinking, making decisions and acting on them in an uninterrupted parcel of time, that always seems open-ended but of course, in reality, isn’t. It is an internal dialogue I have with myself whilst there, so perhaps one could say there are two of us at the studio, the internal and external selves, exchanging ideas and critically examining and questioning these as the action proceeds. Probably then I’m never really alone even in my studio.
What is your art scene?
Some aspects of this question have been alluded to in my answers to the earlier question. However, I do like going to some private views such as the Tate galleries in London, where apart from some great shows,( and occasionally not so great), I often bump into old friends and colleagues whom I haven’t met up with for some time, and we catch up on our news and events. Unfortunately, I learn also about who has passed away in the interim, and at this stage of life now such news is quite regular! It is the reality of being and non-being.
Maybe you have a funny story from your journey as the artist?
There are many funny stories from over the years, some ironic. However, everyone should see Alec Guinness, the actor in the film ‘The Horse’s Mouth’, filmed in London in black and white in the 1950’s. Guinness plays the part of a painter who lives in Battersea with his wife, but spends most of his time in Chelsea and Eaton Sq., getting drunk and mixing with up-market potential buyers from the wealthy upper classes who woo him, as much as he woo’s them. He receives a large commission from a wealthy couple who are off for a period of time on holiday and want a large mural in their main living room on a very large horizontal wall seen immediately on opening the front door. The film is very well observed, but this is the point, the absurd situations he gets into are hilarious, and the other artists and clients he mixes with creating riotous moments that could be thought of by some as mythic creations. But, I can assure you, over my artistic journey I have seen, experienced, been part of equally hysterical, stomach churning, funny situations comparative to those in the film. See the film, and you will see the funny, ironic absurdities of being an artist! I have been there.
How does inspiration come to you?
This is a difficult question to answer simply. I can’t prescribe how inspiration comes, I only know that if you immerse yourself totally in your work, and in my case ask many questions of yourself and the subject, followed by concentrated action, attention, and a humility to the process, inspiration will come during this. The difficulty is recognizing the inspiration when, and at what time it hits you? It never seems to hit in the same way, shape or form! Part of the training is being able to recognize the moment and to act on it when it does, otherwise, you lose it! Awareness training imperative!
Is it hard being an artist?
Yes, especially if you set yourself high standards based on the self-critical evaluation. You need a very deep well-spring of revival techniques to keep coming back for more.As numbers of colleagues have said to me over the years, we must be mad to be artists! But, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
What would you like to say to the young artists?
Bend your axle in the right direction, and keep on bending it until it fits! Never give up!
Interviewed by Monika Dirsyte: http://www.monikadirsyte.com/category/blog/