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Self-Taught & Visionary Art in New Zealand

Martin Thompson
(b. 1956), Wellington

Martin is a well recognized character of the character-filled city-fringe neighbourhood of upper Cuba Street in Wellington. This is an area of 100-year-old wooden Victorian shops and villas, mostly run-down since being zoned for motorway development. This was always the bohemian setting for students and artists since the drug-addled ‘70s. Martin has been around since those days.

Martin is a solitary man, but never idle; his conversation is abrupt and urgent and the sense given is that time is not to be wasted and foolish people, unreliable people (particularly bureaucrats) cannot be tolerated. This is a man with a mission.

Martin is never without a bag, stowed business-like under an arm. The bag contains a pile of drawings: some are recent works in progress, others are several years old. The drawings represent the evolution over his lifetime of a graphic system of creating order, pattern, and logic in the face of the random, the chaotic, and the unreliable. This work is Martin’s mission, and until last year it had never been out of his hands.

His drawing materials are A3 (420mm x 297mm) or A4 (297mm x 210mm) graph paper with 1mm squares and fine point ink marking pens. The choice of colour is of critical significance in his final analysis of the overall success of a work. His technique is to meticulously colour in sequenced rows of the tiny squares, so that layers of sequences combine to form complex quilts, radiating mandalas, or patterns of pixilated TV static. There is no testing, no trial runs, all the calculations for the work occur in his mind’s eye and appear miraculously and with mechanical certainty on the page. My understanding, gleaned from watching Marty work, is that a pre-determined sequence is set out, applied in strips, and other patterns are overlaid (again in pre-determined calculations); this overlay affords the opportunity to render the first pattern in and out of the negative.

I am not sure how well Martin is able to predict the final appearance of each work. Obviously, he has a natural ability to make mathematical calculations on a scale that is completely bewildering. But I think that with this layering process Martin is sometimes able to surprise himself and to find delight in the complexity and visual dazzle of the final outcomes.

Another feature of Martin’s technique is his use of a scalpel and clear tape to cut and insert segments from one drawn sequence into another in order to compound the layering and the logic of the patterns. His control of this cutting process is sublime surgery, and although the back of his drawings might become a woven matrix of clear tape, the join-lines on the front surface defy recognition by all but the most determined scrutiny. This precision is all the more impressive given the fact that Marty’s studio is often his own lap. When not being bumped on a shaky table in the cramped local coffee shop, the work continues from any convenient bench around the town.

Marty’s drawings are games of positive and negative pattern making, a teasing marriage of the finest technique and control with the perfection of the mathematics of geometry.

As if all this were not enough, to complete the game, each drawing comes with its clone in the opposite value. The drawings are shown as pairs.


Selected Works

  • UntitledUntitled, 2008
  • UntitledUntitled, 2008
  • UntitledUntitled
  • UntitledUntitled
  • UntitledUntitled

Showing all 5 works.