Though diverse and varied in his artistic influences, David Martin’s signature style is striking in its originality, clarity and beauty, culminating in work that makes him one of the twentieth century’s most important Scottish painters. Born in 1922, Martin trained at the Glasgow School of Art, working with prominent artists such as Hugh Adam Crawford, Ian Fleming and David Donaldson, all of whom had a strong bearing on his development as a landscape and still life painter.
Originally interested in portraiture, Martin moved on to the sparsely populated Scottish landscapes and strong, pure still life that he is known for, via his interest in textile design taught by the Scottish designer Robert Stewart.Working with Stewart a few years after graduating from the Glasgow School of Art, Martin used his time with the designer to develop his technique as a painter, simplifying and emboldening his portrayal of objects and landscapes, yet maintaining the elegance and visual appeal that is so crucial to the aesthetic success of design work. Such was Martin’s active understanding of this technique, that a textile design of his was selected to be exhibited at the Design Centre, Glasgow by the city’s Arts Council in 1949.
Upon examination, the visual influence of textile design and material is indeed apparent in Martin’s work; the strength of line giving a fabric-like quality to the painting, as if the canvas is swathed in a thick, layered blanket of bright colours and bold patterning. Simultaneously, lighter and more delicate brushwork flickers across the surface of the canvas, adding depth and bridging the gap between abstraction and realism that is inherent to Martin’s aesthetic direction. ‘My work is ultimately based upon what I see, but I extract its abstract qualities and use them to my own ends,’ he says, citing the work of Henri Hayden and Graham Sutherland as important predecessors of this method. Actively drawing out abstraction from landscapes and still life adds a layer of poignant emotional connection to the subject, subtly removed as it is from the physical reality. This technique also echoes that of Cubism, an approach that Martin interweaves with his own perception to put his personal interpretation upon it.
Martin’s still life retains its Cubist feel in its flat, stark, simplification of forms; we are encouraged to notice not the objects themselves but their assembly into something beautiful and whole. Contrastingly, subject matter for such unpredictable landscapes as Scotland’s is sketched and photographed on location, and developed in the studio, allowing Martin to process and transform these everyday settings, though splendid in their own right, into stunning scenes that articulate his appreciation of them.
Rosie Willmot, Lemon Street Gallery 2011