Knox Martin: Garden of Time

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KNOX MARTIN JANUARY 6–FEBRUARY 5, 2022 ESSAY BY MARTIN FOX HOLLIS TAGGART 521 West 26th Street, 1st Floor New York, NY 10001




Throughout his life, Knox Martin has truly marched to the beat of his own drum. In countless interviews and lectures he has reaffirmed the fact that his existence has been about art—that which he created and that which preceded him. His indefatigable energy and boundless originality have been hallmarks of a career that has spanned eight decades. And at nearly ninety-nine years old, Knox continues to paint in his studio every day, surrounded by art and his beloved books, plants, and pets. Knox’s joie de vivre can be seen in his boldness, lively palette, and sheer exhilaration of his work. For this celebrated painter, sculptor, and muralist, much of his inspiration comes from the natural world. His unique interpretations of flowers, insects, animals, vegetables, leaves, and fruit demonstrate his sentient observance of the world around him and his perspicacious ability to present recognizable imagery through a most audacious personal aesthetic. Through metaphor, gesture, and patterning, even sometimes hard-edged lines, compositional forms evolve and meld into organic shapes, inviting the viewer to enter Knox’s imaginative universe. We are honored to present this exhibition which is based on the relationship of nature and art in Knox’s work. With his deep-seeded, intimate connection to flora and fauna, combined with his highly stylized depiction of the human form, Knox has created images that are idiomatic of his very essence. We appreciate the artist’s generous spirit in allowing us into his studio and his continual willingness to share his thoughts and seasoned philosophies, his reminiscences of a life well-lived, and his fiercely-opinionated interpretations on the history of art. Many thanks are extended to Knox’s children, Jonathan and Olivia, who were exceedingly helpful in various aspects of this exhibition. For her guidance with “all things Knox” we are especially grateful to Knox’s assistant, Gabriela Ryan who so competently safeguards archival information and the cataloguing of the artist’s oeuvre. Also, we appreciate Martin Fox’s participation in the project and for his perceptive text which delves so insightfully into the relationship Knox maintains with nature, from the universal to the miniscule. We happily present Knox Martin: Garden of Time which highlights yet another fascinating aspect of the maestro’s work. Hollis Taggart Debra Pesci



A PIONEERING MEMBER OF THE NEW YORK SCHOOL, Knox Martin has pursued art on his

Knox Martin with Three Women with Watermelon, 1985

own terms for seven decades, creating work that is ambitious and strikingly original. In addition, he served as a teacher for generations of artists beginning at Yale Graduate School of the Arts and continuing as a stalwart instructor at the Art Students League, among other institutions. At age ninety-eight, Martin has taken full advantage of his years to develop his art, which is characterized by constant invention and synthesis. Invention, because he approaches each work with an active process through which repetitions of form, subject, and expression emerge as he creates; and synthesis, because he brings to each piece a lifetime of experience as an artist who has thought deeply about the nature of art and has devoted himself to furthering its possibilities. According to poet Paul Valéry, “Time serves for ripening, classifying, setting in order, perfecting.”1 Martin regards time as one of the essences of creating a work of art. Art itself is always his primary subject, with inspiration for his work emerging from his own creative sensibilities, the history of art he admires, and his openness to and concern for the natural world. Garden of Time, 1963 (pl. 1) exemplifies Martin’s inventiveness as a painter at a key point in his career, and is one of several paintings across the decades that he gave this title as a metaphor for his creative work. A composition of flat shapes, it combines sharply angled forms of light pink, periwinkle blues, mustard yellow, and a flash of red with patterns of white, gray, and black in varied alignments. Defined by hard-edged contours, zig-zag shapes, and areas of stripes and circles, the painting is divided into patterns that play off one another and assert themselves vigorously, yet are integrated into a clearly defined, dynamic whole. In 1965, Irving Sandler theorized about Martin’s work that “much of the drama of his painting arises from the attempt to express a private fantasy in a mode of art closely identified with classicism.”2 As a graphic composition, Garden of Time is dazzling, though it is first and foremost a painting, with directional brushstrokes, drips, shifting hues, and areas of underpainting that emerge to define the expansive canvas. Arthur Danto saw in this juxtaposition of elements the hybrid impulses of collage, but observed how these works could only be paintings, noting that when one recognized that in the end they were not collages but painted illusions of collages, that the oddly shaped planes were areas of paint rather than swatches of brashly figured cloth or paper, one began to appreciate the way Knox’s paintings were animated by certain internal conversations on the meanings of space, surface, painting, pigment, reference, reality, and illusion.3 Among Martin’s landmark works is Venus (fig. 1), a twelve-story mural located at West 19th Street and the West Side Highway that he painted in 1970, one of the numerous


Fig. 1. Knox Martin, Venus, 1970, outdoor twelve-story mural, 1972–73. Photograph by Christopher Kent

public murals he has created over the course of his career. At a monumental urban scale, the intensely colorful geometric composition balances curving forms that suggest its feminine namesake with dynamic linear patterns. In a radio interview with Doris Freedman of City Walls about the mural, Martin expressed that his goal as an artist was to make it “as true and as beautiful and as long-lasting as possible, with an innate sense of surprise. More than anything else, it should invoke a sense of inner celebration.”4 Among the other notable exchanges in this interview is when the artist recounted scuba diving off the Florida Keys. Inspired by the color and light of the seabed and movement of fish, he evocatively described the underwater scene, reflecting: “Together, these things have the type of quality that I like to have in a new space that I’m working with, and this is apparent in the mural above the highway.”5 This intriguing statement both relates Martin’s history as an adventurous traveler and reveals something of the way in which he had drawn inspiration from nature. Martin introduces nature into much of his work not by directly representing landscapes, flowers, or other natural elements, but by folding those forms and metaphors for processes of nature into his art. The spaces of Event Horizon (Bouquet of the Sea), 1980 (pl. 10) may be understood as operating in this manner, with passages of scintillating blues, grays, and yellow flowing into fields of white in its lower half, while varied structures of bright pink, red, and black occupy its top, together forming painterly analogies to boundaries, fluid dynamics, and organic growth. His openness to experience is clear in Untitled, 1980 (pl. 5) from the same year, in which brilliant colors and patterns suggest blooming flowers and an efflorescence of growth. Writing about


Fig. 2. Jan Davidsz de Heem, Vase of Flowers, c. 1660. Oil on canvas, 27 3/8 � 22 1/4 inches (69.6 � 56.5 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Andrew W. Mellon Fund, 1961.6.1

Martin’s work of that year, Julio Congora declared: “Most remarkable manifest in this work is creation itself, a flavor of the wild. They are complete poems that deal with love, the love of the universe at large.”6 That spirit is manifested again in the recent painting I’m Yours, 2020 (pl. 9), in which a half-circle silver sun radiates across its top register, linked below by color to the linear brushstrokes that signify painted stems and by the shape to the red circles that together form flowers in a touching symbol of life and growth. Woman and Plant, 2010 (pl. 2) combines Martin’s long-standing interest in expressing the female figure through abstract forms with the organic growth of the green lines of stems and other patterns that suggest veins or capillaries—functions and structures shared between plant and animal life. Introducing systems of order that appear to be entirely of the artist’s invention, Star Flowers, 2015 (pl. 11) is comprised of circular segments, arrows, repeated lines, and the artist’s trademark signature in red, with linear highlights and gridded forms in blue. The order at play here might be best explained by Martin when he defined composition as “the idea of encoding within the choreography of the thing you’re putting together in a series of rhymes, an underground geometry in depth.”7 Martin has long been interested in the art of the past, relating that he draws inspiration particularly from Titian, Paul Cézanne, and Pablo Picasso, with a lifetime of study that extends beyond these masters to encompass a wide range of art-historical figures and movements. The depth of this engagement is apparent in Homage to Jan de Heem, 2015 (pl. 8). Based on careful study and transformation of de Heem’s Vase of Flowers, c. 1660 (fig. 2), a Dutch Baroque still life in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., the dynamic hues and nested shapes in Martin’s painting represent tulips, peonies, irises, and other flowers, their contours almost unbounded as they reach toward the edge of the canvas. Amid the profusion of color are black lines on a white ground that translate the meticulously rendered reflections and refractions of light in de Heem’s still life. Looking closer, one can spot the many animals nestled in the buds and foliage that range from a lobster and lizard to snails, caterpillar, bees, and moth—all in keeping with his Baroque predecessor’s inclusion of insects and other animals in his still life, acting both as symbols of vanitas and as an inventory of living things.


Fig. 3. Goya (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes), Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga (1784–1792), 1787–88. Oil on canvas, 50 � 40 inches (127 � 101.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jules Bache Collection, 1949, 49.7.41

Though seldom exhibiting them, Martin has pursued sculpture throughout his career, creating work in wood, stone, metal, and other materials. His mixed-media sculptures with animal subjects draw from his own experience with the many pets that have shared his home and studio space over time, which have included cats, dogs, tarantulas, a parrot, and a monkey. These carved, assembled, and painted sculptural works were also inspired by favorite details of art that he shared and joked about with his family. Cat, 1995 (pl. 6) represents a black cat standing stock still, staring intently at its avian quarry made from a feathered branch. It was inspired by the pet cats and magpie in the lowerleft corner of Goya’s portrait of Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga, 1787–88, a painting that he would visit with his son and daughter at the Met (fig. 3). Distilling the intensity of feline attentiveness, Cat fulfills Martin’s desire to produce in these sculptures a visual metaphor for the animal’s nature. Picasso’s Dogs, 1995 (pl. 7) is carved and painted from highly textured wood, with wide eyes, ears, and toothy fangs that emerge in a tangle of canine energy. Inspired by a photograph of dachshunds curled together in Picasso’s studio, the sculpture is both an homage to the nature of dogs and a study of the possibilities of sculptural Cubism. The menagerie is joined by Spider, an assemblage with a body of coiled rope, a spiky back appendage, and tubular limbs painted with colorful spiraling stripes that call to mind the patterns in Knox’s paintings. Wrapped with twine to its rope body, its limbs take a complicated stance that only an eight-legged creature can accomplish. Another body of work that pulls inspiration from both art and nature is the Caprichos, a series of drawings titled in homage to Goya’s sardonic prints, which first impressed him as a child growing up across the street from New York’s Hispanic Society of America and have fascinated him ever since. Drawn in a variety of media and scales on paper or Tyvek, Martin’s Caprichos are dense and filled with fantastic metamorphoses, animated by humor, an improvisational approach to their creation, and allusions to natural forms and processes. Wild Bird, 2000, is a wild swirl of predator and prey in polymorphic combinations of beaks, wings, teeth, and claws mixed with human faces and limbs. Their forms and interactions conjoin and suggest what separates humans from animals (or more accurately, what often doesn’t). With an active line and a spirited vitality, Conejo (Rabbit), 2003 (pl. 3)


features the titular rabbit pursued by a bull, both of which emerge through dense convolutions of animal and human anatomy. Amid its play of positive and negative space, Martin allows his imagination to take over, one shape leading to another in the resulting riot of forms. Among Martin’s most recent works are serigraphs and watercolors of lilies, irises, sunflowers, and clusters of tomatoes on the vine, (pls. 4, 12, 13). Drawn and painted from life, they are imbued with form through the artist’s observation of his subjects and by the methods of abstraction that he has developed across his career. Rendered without spatial recession, their forms are flattened, spread out, and broken into their constituent parts, then reconstructed into abstracted forms that retain their essential sense of organic form and growth. “Flowers are the same as anything else,” Martin declares, “They have their own life.” He paints the tomatoes from above, emphasizing the contrast between the twists and turns of their green vines and ripe red fruits. With his floral subjects, the pink of the lilies and the yellow of the sunflower petals radiate outward, filling the page with color. Contrasting with their organic patterns are lines that divide and demarcate, while bunches of stems are broken and repeated across these lines, suggesting the refracted distortions of light through the water of a vase. Poised between representation and abstraction, these watercolors are guided by Martin’s careful observation of natural forms together with his consummate compositional ability and fascination with the process of making art itself. As he explains it, they are generated from immediate contact with the forms of his botanical subjects, then developed though the varied brushwork made possible by his use of watercolor. As he draws and paints them, he subjects their forms to a system of patterns that emerge, which in turn serve as progenitors that guide him to the next pattern, transforming them into works that express both their natural structure and Martin’s subjective response—all growing together into a metaphorical garden of time. Martin Fox is an art historian, writer, and editor based in Montclair, New Jersey. With an M.A. from Stanford University, he has worked for museums and galleries throughout the United States and internationally. NOTES 1. Paul Valéry, Collected Works of Paul Valéry, Volume 14: Analects, trans. Stuart Gilbert (Princeton University Press, 2015), 180. 2. Irving Sandler, Concrete Expressionism (New York: New York University Art Collection, 1965). 3. Arthur Danto, “Adventures in Pictorial Reason: The Paintings of Knox Martin,”

in Knox Martin: Recent Work (New York: Janos Gat Gallery, 1998). 4. Doris Freedman, “Artists in the City: Knox Martin,” WNYC, September 28, 1971, Restored by the Public Art Fund in 1998, Venus remains intact. Unfortunately, most of the mural has been obscured for the past decade by the construction of a neighboring building.

5. Freedman. 6. Julio Congora, “The Flower Paintings of Knox Martin,” Knox Martin: 46 Flower Paintings (Irvington-onHudson, NY: The River Gallery, 1980). 7. R andy Fordyce, “Knox Martin in the Spotlight,” Not Just Jazz: The Uncommon Denominator 1, no. 3 (1980): 12.


1. GARDEN OF TIME, 1963 Oil and Magna acrylic on canvas 70 � 69 3/4 inches (177.8 � 177.2 cm)



2. W OMAN AND PLANT, 2010 Acrylic on linen 18 � 22 inches (45.7 � 55.9 cm)


3. C ONEJO (RABBIT), 2003 Pen, ink, crayon, and watercolor on Tyvek 23 � 35 inches (58.4 � 88.9 cm)


4. UNTITLED, 2020 Watercolor and graphite on paper 17 � 14 inches (43.2 � 35.6 cm)



5. UNTITLED, 1980 Acrylic on paper mounted to Masonite 17 5/8 � 15 1/8 inches (44.8 � 38.4 cm)



6. CAT, 1995 Mixed media 12 1/2 � 11 � 28 inches (31.8 � 27.9 � 71.1 cm) Collection of Jonathan Martin


7. P ICASSO’S DOGS, 1995 Painted wood 6 1/2 � 11 � 4 3/4 inches (16.5 � 27.9 � 12.1 cm) Collection of Jonathan Martin


8. H OMAGE TO JAN DE HEEM, 2015 Acrylic on linen 80 � 66 inches (203.2 � 167.6 cm)



9. I ’M YOURS, 2020 Acrylic on linen 64 � 80 inches (162.6 � 203.2 cm)



10. E VENT HORIZON (BOUQUET OF THE SEA), 1980 Acrylic on paper mounted to foam core 17 5/8 � 15 1/8 inches (44.8 � 38.4 cm)


11. S TAR FLOWERS, 2015 Acrylic on canvas 56 � 44 inches (142.2 � 111.8 cm)


12. IRISES, 2019 Hand painted serigraph 24 1/8 � 25 3/4 inches (61.3 � 65.4 cm)


13. UNTITLED, 2021 Watercolor and graphite on paper 14 � 12 inches (35.6 � 30.5 cm)



A colleague of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, Knox Martin is an esteemed New York School painter. Embracing pattern, geometric structure, and organic and figurative references, his painting engages with major Post-war trends, including Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, and Pop art, without adhering to any singular artistic movement. His large-scale paintings of the 1960s employ a collage aesthetic, combining geometric forms with fields of stripes and polka dots in a bold palette of black and white, vibrant green, red, blue, and yellow. Beginning in the 1970s, the female nude, a favorite subject of de Kooning’s, became a key theme in Martin’s painting, where it is playfully fragmented and rearranged. The female form becomes a vehicle for abstraction and a reference to art historical lineages and the creative process of art making. Martin’s series of women paintings culminated in two major public commissions, Venus (1970), a twelve-story mural at West 19th Street and the West Side Highway, and Woman with Bicycle (1979) at West Houston and MacDougal Street (covered 2002). Born in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1923, Martin moved to New York City in 1927. After serving in World War II, he attended the Art Students League of New York on the G.I. Bill from 1946 to 1950, where he studied with Harry Sternberg, Vaclav Vytlacil, Will Barnet, and Morris Kantor. Among his fellow students at the League were Robert Rauschenberg, Al Held, and Cy Twombly. In 1954, at Kline’s recommendation, Martin’s work was included in the prestigious Stable Gallery annual exhibition. That same year, his career was launched by his first solo exhibition at Charles Egan Gallery. Since then, Martin has exhibited widely both in the U.S. and abroad, including in France, England, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, and Germany. Martin’s work has also been included in significant group presentations, such as Some Paintings to Consider (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California, 1964), Concrete Expressionism (New York University, New York, 1965), Large Scale American Paintings (Jewish Museum, New York, 1967), the Whitney Annual (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1967 and 1972), Synthetic Realism (Gremillion & Co. Fine Art Inc., Houston, 1986), Knox Martin: A Painting Exhibition Spanning a Number of Years (Lighthouse Museum, Tequesta, Florida, 1999), Pan American Modernism: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America and the United States (Lowe Art Museum, Miami, 2013), The Masters: Art Student League Teachers and their Students (The Art Students League of New York, 2018), Knox Martin: Radical Structures (Hollis Taggart, New York, 2019), and most recently Knox Martin: Living Legend (Arlington Museum of Art, Texas, 2020). Martin’s work is held in over forty museums and private collections worldwide.


He has received prestigious grants and awards, including most recently the Benjamin West Clinedinst Memorial Award and the French Legion of Honor. Martin has also had a distinguished career in teaching art, including his years at Yale Graduate School of the Arts, New York University, University of Minnesota, and the Art Students League of New York. Martin lives and works in New York.


This catalogue has been published on the occasion of the exhibition “Knox Martin: Garden of Time” organized by Hollis Taggart, New York, and presented from January 6–February 5, 2022. All Artwork © Knox Martin/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY Essay © Martin Fox ISBN: 978-1-7378463-8-3 Publication © 2022 Hollis Taggart All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited. Frontispiece: Knox Martin, Homage to Jan de Heem, 2015 (detail) Page 4: Knox Martin with Venus, 1970, twelve-story mural, New York, 1971 Hollis Taggart 521 West 26th Street 1st Floor New York, NY 10001 Tel 212 628 4000 Fax 212 570 5786 Catalogue production: Kara Spellman Copyediting: Jessie Sentivan Design: McCall Associates, New York Printing: Point B Solutions, Minneapolis, MN Photography: Joshua Nefsky

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