Ronald Albert Martin
acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated Febuary [sic] 1972 and inscribed with the Canada Council Art Bank acquisition #abba73/4-0998 and "#14" / "Crate #7"
84 x 72 in 213.4 x 182.9 cm
Estimate: $30,000 - $40,000
Sold for: $85,250
Collection of the Artist
Acquired from the Artist by the Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa, November 1973
Reacquired from the above by the Artist via Christopher Cutts Gallery, Toronto, 2002
Private Collection, Toronto, 2007
Ron Martin, Interview with Anne Garwood, London Public Library and Art Museum, 1974, listed, unpaginated
Geoffrey James, Contemporary Canadian Painters: An Exhibition of Works from the Canada Council Art Bank, presented by the Department of External Affairs of Canada / Peintres canadiens contemporains: Une exposition de la Banque d’œuvres d’art du Conseil des Arts du Canada, présentée par le Ministère des Affaires extérieures du Canada, 1977, reproduced, unpaginated
Gary Michael Dault, “Vintage Abstraction at Christopher Cutts,” The Globe and Mail, August 17, 2002, page R7
Sarah Milroy, “A Tale of Two Shows,” The Globe and Mail, October 4, 2007, page R2
London Public Library and Art Museum, Ontario, Ron Martin, January 4 - February 3, 1974, catalogue #12
Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris, Contemporary Canadian Painters: An Exhibition of Works from the Canada Council Art Bank, presented by the Department of External Affairs of Canada, June 17 - August 18, 1977, catalogue #14
Christopher Cutts Gallery, Toronto, Vintage Abstraction from the Vault, July 11 - August 22, 2002
Varley Art Gallery of Markham, Ontario, The Urge to Abstraction, September 15 - November 11, 2007
Ron Martin’s need to see a colour’s essence drove him to create his one-colour paintings of 1971 to 1973. To fulfill this need, he found his own technique - he selected single colours from the Aqua-tec line of Bocour acrylic paints, he determined standard dimensions for the paintings, and he did not mix colours. He added standard quantities of polymer medium and acrylic gel to extend the paint without diminishing its luminosity. These preconditions determine how Bocour Blue was made, and its content manifests when the viewer engages with it.
In February 1972, at 29 years old, Martin had already won a purchase award at the Annual Western Ontario Exhibition in London, shown his hard-edge Conclusion and Transfer abstractions in the National Gallery of Canada’s landmark exhibition The Heart of London, and signed on with Toronto’s Carmen Lamanna Gallery. His successful 1971 inaugural solo exhibition of his 1970 World Paintings there earned critic Gary Michael Dault’s praise that Martin was “indisputably a painter of the first importance in Canada.”
Martin was already on to the next thing when Dault praised him. His readings of phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty and psychologist Rollo May informed his understanding of colour’s physical presence, and how the one-on-one encounter of viewer and painting can be uniquely profound. Bodily relations are so important to Martin that he insists the one-colour paintings be hung 10 to 15 centimetres from the floor. His expressivity and focus on personality (of the artist and viewer), colourism, open form and placement align him with the slightly older generation of American Post-Minimal artists such as Lynda Benglis, Brice Marden and Richard Serra.
The earliest one-colour paintings of 1971 were painted with strokes of about 20 inches long, from a four-inch brush loaded with colour applied in different directions, resembling loose, oversized hatchings. These works were painted on primed canvas tacked to the wall to provide a firm backing and space to facilitate Martin’s movement. Later in 1971, Martin cut off the handle of the four-inch brush. This literally brought him closer to the painting as he covered the painting’s surface with varying densities of colour, integrating traces of his body’s movement as evidence of being.
The one-colour paintings’ unpainted areas and varied translucence were intentional, to bring out the attributes of colour as a physical phenomenon. Bocour Blue, as mentioned, is the presentation of the hue Bocour blue. It is not the blue of the Mediterranean, a lover’s eyes, or the midnight sky on a summer’s night. It is Bocour blue, another entity with which to engage, and the viewer’s emotional response is independent of the artist’s frame of mind when he made it.
While he was teaching at the University of Western Ontario (now Western University) in London, artist Tony Urquhart invited Martin to give a demonstration on how Bocour Blue was created. Urquhart described Martin as being almost like a shot putter while executing the very physical process of applying and manipulating kilograms of paint. Urquhart’s recollection of Martin making the painting in about 11 minutes reflects the mechanical limits Martin set for himself in the paint’s preparation. In 10 to 15 minutes, the paint began to set and he had to stop. Unsurprisingly, the students were mystified.
In late 1973, almost two years after its creation, Bocour Blue was acquired by the Canada Council Art Bank, and soon after it was included in Martin’s first institutional solo exhibition, at the London Public Library and Art Museum (now Museum London), then in Paris in an exhibition drawn from the Art Bank’s collection. After Martin bought it back from the Art Bank in 2002, the painting entered a private collection and was included in Roald Nasgaard’s revelatory survey of Canadian abstraction, The Urge to Abstraction, where it dominated a wall between works by Lawren P. Harris and Fernand Leduc. Bocour Blue was overshadowed by none and outshone almost every painting in the show.
We thank Gregory Humeniuk, art historian, writer and curator, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $30,000 - $40,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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