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Don Martin

American
(1931–1989)

Flying Spirit South - Fire on the Mountain
1987

Lacquer on masonite
49.25 x 49.25 x 2.25 in.
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
2006.21

Crafted in lacquered layers and burnished down, the tiny shapes of Fire on the Mountain become cloaks to their underlying forms, their hems the contours of a topographic map. Despite the apparently static tessellation of the islands of red and yellow in a black sea, aggregations of color orchestrate a larger sense of motion within and across the plane.

Some artists reproduce previsualized illusions, relying on accident and impulse to enliven their work. Martin does not aim for a preconceived image but adopts an algorithmic process, whose organic intricacy is nonetheless tantamount to image making. Evident on the painting’s surface, the process records its own evolutionary phases. Beyond commemorating final choices, the result captures not only sequential change, but the very attribute of mutability itself.

To contemplate Fire on the Mountain is to look through it the way a beholder of landscape sifts atmosphere in pursuit of a horizon: map becomes picture. What might have had its genesis in symmetrical Rorschach blots is here locally particularized without reference to reflected points across the implied central axis. Our prevailing associations lead us to see their rise and fall as a graph, an eruption, a mountain. Dark oases become keyholes to deep space or the eyes of a storm. Mesmerizing elements animate the surface, shape-shifting so that the whole becomes a fluctuating depiction of imagination.

Fire—Martin suggests without showing—is a portrait in itself, a veil obscuring whatever is behind, a reminder of urgency, a display of potency and menace, a mandate for renewal. Fire on the Mountain appeals to the human desire for object, story, transition, and consequence, requiring our participation, our own inventiveness.

Casey FitzSimons


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