After 50 years in Manhattan, I moved to the country. So did Chris Martin, an abstract painter who lives in Brooklyn. He got a farmhouse in Walton, N.Y., filled his new studio space with concrete garden trolls, and set about producing a fine body of work to justify four decades as a wandering minstrel in the art world.
It is almost a shame that Chris had to move these paintings to Mitchell, Innes & Nash in Chelsea, so haphazardly brilliant is the studio installation depicted in the show's catalogue. Indeed, gallery director Jay Gorney mentioned, "We decided to leave the larger paintings out of the show," as well as some whimsical sculpture, including one of James Brown on a stick, a sly dig at Martin Puryear.
Getting to Martin's show is an obstacle course, as cranes and other construction equipment impede access everywhere in Chelsea now. The throngs of art-world workers which used to crowd Bottino at 6 pm aren't there anymore, and the sense of giganticism in four or five desultory glass buildings, a huge, vulgarly placed American flag on 24th Street and the general aura of vile wealth triumphant mean that Chelsea is dead. Gallery owners are too busy vacationing between appointments at art fairs and auctions to interact with the public.
So, in a very real sense, Chris Martin's triumph looks very much like the last show you will ever see, or wish to see, on the West Side of Manhattan. Each piece is distinctive, the most beautiful being a tiny pine green tree called Hemlock. There's a bursting tri-colored star, poppies blooming, undulating curves which owe a lot to Judy Ledgerwood, an exploding psychedelic miniature of James Brown, and a lumpy orange bas-relief reminiscent of a little kid's play experiment in papier-mâché.
When Chris Martin was at Yale in the 1970s, his pals Barney Conrad and Mark Potter entered his studio one day. Mark picked up a staple gun, and in a fit of macho pique, stapled his hand. Not to be outdone, Barney stapled his hand.
Their friend Chris embarked on a haphazard journey of shows in galleries like John Good, Bernard Toale, Daniel Weinberg and Sideshow. A small band of devoted collectors followed him around, dropping a few dollars on the bright boy to keep him going. Jay Gorney told me, "I am a HUGE Chris Martin fan." Well, Jaybo, better late than never. An artist who awakes with joy in his heart every morning and seamlessly implants that joy, with subtle goofiness, in every piece, is a rare thing, and Martin's new beauties are the last picture show you'll ever see in the new pumped-up and sucked-down Chelsea.
Chris Martin, Jan. 26-Mar. 1, 2008, at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).