Reaching out, you pull yourself
We may experience them at different times, in different places but the tranquility and clarity of these moments bring on a joyful, reminiscent bliss; reminding us how fortunate we are and how beautiful a moment can be.
Looking at one of Will Martyr’s works does this to you. Cradled by a memory, a fantasy, of some time or place you want to return to. The colors resonate, the burnt sienna’s, the pink skies, even the time of day. You want to walk into one of the life-size paintings. It
Whether it is the rectangles, or the gorgeous large round tondos, that are like portholes, you view into them like only you can see it. More than just wanting to be there, its familiar,
All of the paintings are made with a surgical knife, tape, patience of a saint and some very high-quality acrylics. Will sketches and tapes the entire scene out first. You can only imagine it must be painstakingly precise labor. “Masochistic at times” according to Will, but yet a labor of love.
Will Martyr remembers sitting on the balcony in his father’s office in London, looking across the Thames River and beyond, to the Houses of Parliament and drawing at the age of six.
Will went to the Slade School of Fine Art in London straight out of grade school, graduating a year early from his studies.
When you speak to him, he says repeatedly, “I was lucky enough to” or, “I am so lucky.” There is an underlying gratitude ever-present in his thoughts and dialogue. Pondering over our conversation and his work afterward, I must say, in my opinion, in life, “luck” seems to be coupled with hard work more often than not. He worked his tail off, got into some of the most prestigious art schools on his own merit, where he painted 24/7 while making his way. A “baptism through fire”, he calls it. Sold out his entire body of work before graduating. He was one of three students from the Slade School to be chosen from his graduating class to get a scholarship to choose where they would like to study next. This was not luck. This was perseverance and focus. Will went across the ocean to New York City, repeating the process.
Living in New York in the
He returned to London to get his Master’s at the Royal College of Art, (Hello Hockney) and made a name and a place for himself in the art world. Everyone I speak to that has seen his works in person absolutely love them. They simply light up with the conversation of it!
“I try and paint those moments of our lives where we have all stood in front of a vista, on holiday and we have looked on a balcony across these amazing places that you have been.”
Take me back to the time when you were just starting out. When was that “moment” for you?
WM- London in 1998, with the wave such as Damien Hirst coming through all the art schools, and at the same
The Tondos! How did you start with the Tondos?
WM- For me, it’s kind of a wholesome loving shape, like love lockets you have around your neck. You open up and you embrace them. They are almost like portholes into a parallel world. A world where you are embraced by the environment. They are so much softer and allow you to dream. You fall into them much more than just a square or a rectangle. I try and paint those moments of our lives where, we have all stood in front of a vista, we’ve been on holiday and we have looked on a balcony across these amazing places that you have been. You know you are going to remember those. I try to to make paintings that get as close to what that feeling is, and something about a circle gives you that inclusively, that warmth. There is a huge amount of philosophy that goes into the value of certain shapes and I think a circle of those things, that is
You slice everything out with a surgical knife and masking tape first?
WM- It is masochistic at times! (laughing) I love that accuracy with a surgical blade and each individual color hand mixed and then use foam brushes to paint under the surface. It’s this trance-like state you get into when you are making the work. I love the control of that process.
What mediums do you use?
WM- Pencil, all hand drawn and I discovered Golden Fluid High Pigmentation acrylics you can buy, with this incredibly glossy surface, There is an intensity of color. I’ve been using them for 20 years.
Did you start on smaller circles, or was it more a thought like, “I’m gonna dive in and go big?”
WM- I’ve only been painting on ovals or circles for the last three years, and lots of time its on squares or rectangles as well. Whatever fits the composition best, but I have been painting large for a very long time now. I love to scale. It’s a privilege to paint to scale. A lot of the commissions come in at scale.
You have all these beautiful places and you can almost insert yourself where you are. Are they actual scenes and if so, where are they?
WM- The sky may be from water from Cancun and the Islands or the Greek islands, the table could be from the South of France. They are snippets. All of those fabulous moments in your life and I put them into
Tell me about your sculptures and your experience with Sculpture.
WM- For the “Fathom” show, I created a neon sculpture with a parasol, with a play of color, gently luffing in the breeze. I am interested in incorporating that into a more 3d neon object. I enjoy the painting process. The sculptures I have made have been wall based, not something you walk around completely. It’s something I need to explore more.
Have you had any other jobs, other than being an artist?
WM- No. I’ve been very lucky. I started selling my work directly after my undergraduate studies when I graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art when I was 21-22. I sold out my graduation show immediately, and I moved to New York City and studied at The New York Studio there. Graham Nixon went to college with my father in Rome in the ’70s and gave me a studio to work in for a while. I continually sold my work and then I came back to London to do my Masters at the Royal College of Art. Again, a lot of it was large scale work. I was selling work to ABN AMRO, Prudential, Standard Chartered, lots of institutions. I graduated at the worst possible time for selling art in 2007, when the financial crisis hit but because I had the large corporate interest in my work, it kept me buoyant and kept me working and being a full-time artist.
What is your dream project?
WM- That changes all the time because I am realizing dreams as I go along. The last 5 years have been quite spectacular. My dream is obviously to be an artist for the rest of my life, but a specific project would be to do a large scale painting size to scale for a major art institution or gallery, whether it be in the UK or US or far East or wherever, but to not only have the recognition of my peers, but the recognition of the artwork would be fantastic definitely.
I realized as we spoke, that Will is just as talented at the depiction of his work and drawing you in with his words. It takes a unique mind to undertake and analyze the obvious and make it relatable and stir a desire to return to the imaginary. You can see more of his work at www.willmartyr.com. He is also represented by the Unit Gallery, London.