A conversation with Lorna York and Donald Martiny
The ECC team caught up with gallery director Lorna York from Madison Gallery and artists Donald Martiny about their participation in Personal Structures 2022, the importance of exhibiting in Venice and the link with Kandinsky's philosophy
ECC Team: Could you tell us more about the importance as a gallery to participating in Personal Structures – Reflections in Venice?
Lorna York: The opportunity to exhibit in Venice as part of Personal Structures during the 59th Venice Biennale was very important to us as the world came out of a global pandemic. It was a time to celebrate and really view and see the works that many artists had created during this time. Personal Structures at Palazzo Bembo was a beautiful location along the grand canal with its history and unique Venetian grand rooms to display Donald’s work.
ECC: You’ve been working with Donald Martiny for several years now, why was it important to present his work in Venice?
LY: It was important to present Donald's work since his gestures and abstraction go beyond the boundaries of most art as we know it which usually requires the boundaries of canvases and stretcher bars. Venice is a place to show innovative artists like Donald to 80,000 viewers. It is important to us, as his representing gallery, to give him such a large scale platform and showcase his work to a wide international audience.
ECC: Donald Martiny's installation at Palazzo Bembo is one of his biggest projects to date, could you explain to us the challenges as well as satisfactions as a gallery to present such work?
LY: Donald is known for his large scale installation works. He has two large scale works in One World Trade Center NYC and countless private corporate and personal collections. Donald was not able to make this work on site thus the challenge consisted on the fact that the work had to be shipped from his US studio, boated and reassembled on the second floor of Palazzo Bembo.
ECC: Could you explain us how you came up with the idea for this installation which is one of the largest ones you have created?
Donald Martiny: When I created MOMENT for Palazzo Bembo I was thinking about how to invite the visitor into the work, to immerse the viewer and help them become involved in an active way rather than a passive way with the work. A few references from art history occurred to me. The 13th century Master of Naumburg, placed the crucifix on the floor among the congregation forcing them to confront the crucifixion from the point of view of the Romans who placed Christ on the cross; Tintoretto’s MirMiracle of the slave, in which St. Mark flies above viewers of the painting, involving “us” into the scene; and Caspar David Friedrich’s marvellous painting Monk by the Sea, with his use of the Rückenfigur.
Donald Martiny installing Moment at Palazzo Bembo | Photo credits: Chiara Dalla Rosa
ECC: How important is the gesture in your practice? Could you tell us more about the technical process behind your artworks?
DM: I believe it was the Leipzig artist Hans Hartung who, if not the first was one of the first, to isolate and explored the gesture and mark-making as a complete statement. Mark-making is movement and motion; movement is life. My artworks are made in a way that I can freely make a bold gesture with paint and the gesture defines the form of the artwork. Perhaps a bold analogy would be how poetry was constructed before Walt Whitman, using formal verse with a strict meter and rhyme. Whitman decided to break free of the constrictions of formal verse and used free verse. With my artworks, I decided to move away from the restrictions of predetermined forms, e.g., rectangles, circles, etc., and want the work itself to define the form.
ECC: Your work in Personal Structures – Reflections strives for what Kandinsky described as the “vibration of the human soul”, could you expand on that?
DM: In my mind what Wassily Kandinsky was talking about when he made that statement was that art comes from deep within us. Children begin to learn to speak and write with simple names of things, e.g., tree, dog, ball. As we mature and become more sophisticated adults we learn to talk about abstract ideas, complex, and subtle feelings. Kandinsky wanted to go further than depicting the image of an object. He needed abstraction to explore visual ways to express, beyond the limits of verbal communication, the vibrations of our soul.
Moment by Donald Martiny at Palazzo Bembo | Photo credits: Federico Vespignani
ECC: To conclude, could you tell us how does your work relate to the concept of reflections, the main theme of this year's edition of Personal Structures?
DM: Perhaps I already answered that. It is important for me to strive to be inventive and innovative with my work while maintaining a strong connection and dialogue with meaningful art of the past. I see art as an ongoing conversation. To keep it interesting, one must bring new ideas and challenges, but at the same time, we need to remain coherent.