Saturday, January 6, 1990 to Sunday, January 27, 1991

    Ron Martin’s Recent Paintings is an exhibition of paintings from 1987-1988. These provide the opportunity to measure the artist’s development against the survey of his paintings from 1971-1981 exhibited concurrently at the National Gallery of Canada. Martin has pursued his painting projects for many years with a sustained rigour and relentlessness that is unique in Canadian painting. This exhibition proposes to examine what Martin has achieved and also to inquire into the terms of value of Martin’s paintings. In what ways and to whom are Martin’s paintings valuable? In what ways can Martin’s paintings can be seen to produce meaning? “These paintings are about providing conclusively that it is possible to expand modernism,” Ron Martin says. Sitting quietly at Gallery 101, I listen to Martin speak, anxious to hold his words against my perceptions of his five enormous paintings, surrounding me from all sides. Later, concentrating on the foreboding designs of white, black and grey, I recall his words. The works before me represent the artistic possibilities still existing within the modernist framework. “Modernism upholds the principal that the viewer is paramount. Post-modernism wants to package the information,” Martin says. “Post-modernism is bogus. I’ll stake $1000 on it.” Martin, who hails from London, Ontario, has been painting professionally for over 25 years. His latest exhibit at Gallery 101 aggressively defies the viewer not to become engrossed. The paintings incorporate black and white and the plethora of grey in between. Partial patterns within the work express the artist’s interest in geometry and its dissolution into chaos. Blocks of stark black and white appear almost ordered, but they lead into frustrating, anarchic swirls of grey. The patterns re-surface intermittently, but are quickly lost in the ghost-infested landscapes encompassing them. Inevitably, the viewer struggles, attempting to personalize a message which, by Martin’s own description, is entirely subjective. “The paintings are extremely democratic – open to interpretation at every level,” Martin says. “They serve as a means of conceptualizing the essence of painting. I’m not interest in accessing them in a visual sense.” Nonetheless, Martin’s paintings are visually arresting. While their scale alone demand attention, his use of acrylic paint also provides a textural dimension, buttressing the themes already inherent. Daniel Sharp, Gallery 101’s artistic director, says the paintings start with a uniform grey backdrop. Although parts of this backdrop are visible in the composition, the essence o the painting is achieved in one sitting, when Martin works with black and white. The acrylic paint used by Martin places him under time constraints. It maintains its workability for only about 25 minutes, placing pressure on the artist and furthering the conflict between order and chaos. Martin’s end product betrays this conflict. The texture appears to be the result of an increasingly violent application, characterized by smooth, frozen rivers of paint having trickled downwards on the canvas. Challenging the passive spectators to confront their own perceptions is the essence of Ron Martin’s latest exhibit. He succeeds by delivering amorphous works that defy meaning.
    Kelly Graham, “Conflict: order and chaos,” The Charlatan, February 9, 1990, 32.