Friday, June 08, 2007

Fletcher Martin: Strength and Sensitivity

All the while that Fletcher Martin was drawing and painting scenes of masculinity and conflict he was also returning again and again to the female form - clothed, seminude and nude.

These images are like the opposite side of the coin. While Martin's men often have a primal toughness, an almost Neanderthal quality about them, his women are always a vision of loveliness and gentility. Even in his earliest pieces, like this painting of a prostitute (below), sexuality is subsumed by an obvious affection and sensitivity for womankind.

In this entire volume* I've been referencing all week, among all the many paintings of women, there is not a single image where Martin portrays women in anything but a sympathetic light. This was clearly a man who loved women.

During the late 1940's Fletcher Martin married his second wife and they had two sons. This coincided with a change in the artist's work. Over the next decade the violent images of his youth began to recede and were replaced more and more by images of women...

...and children.

Asked about this new element in his work, Martin shrugged it off, saying simply that at that point in his life "the children were just there."

But I get the sense that there's more to it than that. Martin's ability to capture the quality of childhood in his paintings of children suggest that he never lost touch with his own inner child. He once said, "It seems to me that the stimulation and motivation for my painting today is not unlike it was in my youth. The drawings I made as a child were fantasies on a theme, and so, in essence, are all my paintings, with few exceptions... "

"They are all inventions."

William Saroyan, the prolific author and playwright, who befriended Martin when the artist was still quite young, described Fletcher Martin in this manner:

"The thing that is memorable about him was a quality of quietude. He seemed to be at home in the world. He spoke slowly and in a deep voice. Everybody else I was apt to meet in those days seemed to be in a hurry. He wasn't. One sensed in his nature the strength of a sensitive and gentle personality."

* From the book "Fletcher Martin" © 1977 Harry N. Abrams Inc.

* All of today's images can be seen at full size in my Fletcher Martin Flickr set.


  1. Interesting stuff---especially the more abstract treatments...compositions are just amazing too...

    As always, thanks for the intro Leif!

  2. Anonymous2:01 PM

    Macross821 here. :)

    Checking out your blog regularly. Great stuff. Taken as a whole, Martin's stuff has a beauty and unity to them that you wouldn't get by just looking at an isolated example of work.

  3. He's one of the most versatile artist/illustrators you've featured, Leif. I love his rural Thomas Hart Benton style (like the boxing match) and I can clearly imagine young art students at that time like Leo and Diane Dillon being heavilly inspired by the bold bohemian poignancy of his work.

  4. Your welcome, zach.

    Nice to hear you feel that way, Macross821.

    I imagine you are dead-on, Les.

    Thanks all for your comments!

  5. Wow Leif,
    I'd never seen any of Martin's work before this and now he's on my short list. Thanks once again for opening our eyes about the many huge and often unsung talents who worked the field of illustration.

  6. It makes my day to hear that, Jack. Thank you. :-)