Paul Martin is a painter and printmaker based in Edinburgh. He studied art at the Birmingham School of Art (1969-71) and the Royal Academy (1971-73). His work has been exhibited internationally and has won several awards, including the Royal Academy Award for Printmaking (1973) and the Elizabeth Greenshield Foundation Award (1978).
Martin’s work typically includes the human figure, but, for one who studied traditional methods in life-drawing, his treating of the body subverts any expectations of naturalism that the viewer may entertain. Instead, Martin’s renderings of the human subject are often whimsical and playful, and they evoke a strong sense of mystery, and, if I may, sacramentality.
The reference to sacrament is, perhaps, not far off the mark when discussing Martin’s work. In a very interesting essay on Martin’s website, Brother Aiden Hart, who belongs to the same Greek Orthodox church that Martin attends, describes Martin’s paintings in terms of the icon and the Orthodox liturgy. Hart writes:
God dwelling in material creation: this is Paul Martin’s vision. Therefore, although his work rarely for use in a liturgical setting, it is always laden with presence. It is difficult to feel alone when looking at his paintings. They meditate rather than originate; this is a quality that they share with traditional icons. This mediatory aspect of Martin’s paintings is best understood in the light of the Orthodox church’s teaching on the material world – a teaching he has intuited in his early days as a painter.
Hart’s words are reminiscent of other Orthodox critiques of modernity, such as Alexander Schmeemann’s For the Life of the World. In this important book, Schmeemann criticizes the way that modern thinkers have come to regard the cosmos as an end in itself. He suggests, instead, that the whole world should be seen as a symbol pointing to God and as the place where God and humanity meet. Similarly, Martin’s work may be seen as an attempt to approach the material world as a sign that points beyond itself.
Many of Martin’s paintings allude to the biblical narrative and some in a very mature and complex way. Others draw more directly from the realm of human experience, and they encourage us to become alive to the mystery all around. I have included below several examples of Martin’s work, and I also encourage you to take a look at his website. In addition, please take a look at this proposal by Paul Martin for a project called Songs Without Words.