Multi-media artist Tony Martin talks about his synesthesia-driven take on creating space that draws on human-to-human connection.
In the early 1960s, Tony Martin moved into a loft overlooking the Embarcadero in San Francisco. It was there, with the sound of the ferryboats and street floating in through the windows that he may have begun the process of discovering that “the best stuff comes out of the destruction of our intentions.” After studying painting for years, Martin had become frustrated with his output. One day, he took more than the usual amount of paint to canvas, moving it all at once with three paint brushes and some cardboard to reach a point where it was all wet and glistening. It would take months to dry. “There you are,” he declared. This is one of the pivotal moments in Martin’s personal life to which he would hold all of his best work up to; the rest he would leave out for the sanitation department.
It was during that same period that he met artists and composers Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnick, and William Maginnis—all devoted to working in the tape music medium. With Tony at the helm visually, they worked on various compositions, establishing a network of friendships and collaboration that continues to this day. Combining overhead and slide projectors, objects, liquid, paint, and light, Martin began performing his live light compositions alongside the compositions of sound pioneers such as Terry Riley (In C) and Pauline Oliveros (Bye Bye Butterfly). When the San Francisco Tape Music Center moved to 321 Divisadero Street in the spring of 1963, co-directors Sender and Subotnick asked Martin to join up as their Visual Director. With alchemical precision, he culled together the enduring ideas or what he called the “ingredients” for a lifelong project, with close attention paid to the palette of light and a painterly approach. Martin’s following grew as the culture of psychedelia spread though the later half of the decade and he began producing light compositions for bands such as the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead at Fillmore Auditorium shows. Because he was a classically trained musician, he was built for the job. Greatly adept at rhythm, he was “painting in time.”
Tony Martin I’m working on a new piece and in the process of putting the piece together I’m allowing a lot of latitude. I incorporated some ideas from earlier work and from last year’s work where I worked with my analogue projection setups, which are really directly related to painting. I use liquids and dry things on overhead projectors. I hand-paint glass slides and those blend in a way that for me is an extension of painting in time. Painting as a moving image. Alongside that is also performing with optical things. Light Pendulum was a piece that began very early on when I was seeing Nam June Paik sometimes and we would talk. He came into my studio at LaGuardia Place and he saw the Light Pendulum in ’71 or ’72 and I was talking about how that was a piece I hoped in 30 years I could work with again. He understood what I meant and sure enough I built a new base for it and used new sensors, but not changing the content of the piece. So for Proximity Switched Installation, 2012 I had these things lying around, the light pendulum, three DVDs from 1970 and three DVDs from last year, and I was just casually trying some things out to find a thread of meaning that would be current for me because I think I’ve become more interested in the way the world is as I’m observing it in the past five years.
Nicky Mao This book was quite the undertaking, since it’s the first of its kind for you. We neglected to explain this one in the book interview. [Pointing to the image of Phase Shift Brush, 1977.]