Roger Martin, who bristles when someone calls him an artist (he prefers painter), is a painter, author of many books on Rockport’s history, but for many he is a teacher. Martin is a graduate of the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts and co-founder of the Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, where he taught for 20+ years before retiring in 1989.
Since then Martin has been a prolific painter drawing on the nature near his home town as he seeks to understand life through his work, work that is large and truly magnificent with colors and textures that sweep the viewer into the work.
Who or what influenced you in become a painter?
Two people, Ollie Balf and Joseph Jeswald. Joe used to live in Rockport for many years; he recently passed away. In the beginning, I was just an illustrator, with a few good accounts like the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Atlantic Monthly. I never had the feeling of accomplishment with my work – it was just what I did. Both Ollie and Joe encouraged me to spread my wings more, and both believed that I had some ability and that I should use it. They became life-long friends.
Who creatively inspired you or motivated you?
The most important figure in my becoming an artist was a fellow by the name of Dick Symmes. After I got out of the Coast Guard in 1946, I went to Los Angeles to live. It didn’t take for me; I didn’t like LA. One day, Dick said that I looked kind of down. I said that I was and that I wanted to go back to the East Coast but didn’t have any money. Two days later, he arranged for us to go cross country with jobs as cooks on the Santa Fe Super Chief. We got food galore, a bunk in a rattley old car, and enough money from LA to Chicago to buy a bus ticket from Chicago to Boston. We made it cross country for nothing.
When we I got back, we stayed at the Y (YMCA), because my mother had just sold our house. Dick insisted that I go to college, so I went to Boston, took the entry exam, and sort of breezed through the English. Then I hit the math, I put down my pencil, closed the cover, and walked out. I was dead in the water. He was so upset.
I don’t know how I managed it, but somehow I managed to make a pen and ink drawing of the Fishermen’s Monument – without Dick knowing it. I gave it to him as a gift. He said, “You can draw” to which I replied, “Yeah, and I can play the harmonica, too!” He went to Boston, determined that the Museum School was the best school in town, put my name in, and they took me. Changed my life forever.
What is some of the influences your current work?
What I can find within myself. I will admit to being easily amazed, and I am constantly amazed at what I stumble into. I am still stumbling around tying to make sense out of this thing we call life. You know I have buried two wives and a daughter. Death has become a constant companion and perhaps energizes me to try to make something useful out of my time here. It’s something that interests me, something that challenges me. When people like Jeswald and Balf began to say I was capable of doing more, I listened and never stopped running.
What is your greatest fear?
That I will die before I run out of steam.
Where do you think painting is going?
I think it is already gone. I realize that I am in a contemporaneous sense working in the past, because I still work on a flat surface, I still use a brush, I use paint sticks. All of which have no meaning to these environmental installations that are supposed to give you some kind of creepy in-voyage feeling, because you see all these things stacked up in these big galleries. I don’t understand them; I don’t come from that source. I can understand because of my own journey that they are making their own. But I am left behind to a lot of contemporary so-called art.
What are you listening to?
Classical music. Beethoven, Bach, the sound the magnificent, unbelievable bunch of sounds. I heard Berlioz Symphony Fantastic yesterday, and I almost got up and jumped because of the music. More and more, I feel aligned with musicians because they also must think things through to produce sounds, they are going within to see what’s there, and I am doing the same thing.
What are you reading?
Mysteries, I will confess. There is a Swedish author that is great, Henning Mankell. I just stumbled across him thanks to one of my step children who gave me a Christmas present of one of his books. Great stuff.
What roll does Rockport play in your work?
Total: the ambiance, the granite, the sea shore. The idea of standing on a beach with the whole continent at your back continues to be awesome to me. You have an immensity in-front of you and behind you. It is just a fantastic feeling of being aware of knowing what this whole thing is about.
To learn more about Roger Martin visit:
On the web at: David Hall Fine Art http://www.dhallfineart.com/
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