Painter Martyna Alexander Searches for Equilibrium in Her Upcoming Exhibition, “Fields” Opening on April 9th
Mimicking stark polarities between the natural and human-made, Martyna Alexander’s dynamic paintings exhibited in “Fields,” balance gestural abstraction and cleanly designed elements; earth tones and bright, bold colors. This is the first solo exhibition with PLAYGROUND DETROIT for the Detroit-based painter and graphic designer.
Her paintings represent an on-going search for the equilibrium between competing forces that challenge Alexander and encourage her to explore experiences where adherence to logic opposes instinctive emotion. In this space of exploration, the advancement of technology opposes our relationship to nature; systems of production and consumption oppose reflection, healing, and nurturance.
Plentiful variations in materials and subtle gradations of shade within complementary hues are offered as an antidote to black and white thinking. The paintings become an interface wherein two systems can meet and engage, nodding toward hopeful outcomes that burgeon from confrontation and acceptance of each others’ myriad differences.
“I observe the extremes through which humans often interpret our lives as I search for a middle ground—a field of overlap where opposing perspectives converge. I work to bring subtlety, nuance, and reverence for difference into my paintings. My obsession with contrast—rigid geometries versus meandering, spontaneous marks; organic textures versus smooth surfaces; and vibrant color fields versus subtle tones—mirrors my fascination with a tension that exists in the larger world between contrarieties, balance and a lack-there-of.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Martyna Alexander is a Detroit-based artist and designer that is drawn to juxtaposed opposites and how we deal with tensions – both visually and within our lives. Her process incorporates both chance and control as she experiments with immediacy, gesture, and thought. The work is a search for a language to confront the many polarities that exist in our current culture and a reflection of the equilibrium that can be found in duality.
When she is not staring at one of many screens, reading, or painting in her studio, she can be found picking up trash, riding her moped, or simply thinking about being a minimalist. She believes that it is important that we do everything that we can to understand and protect the environment, and encourage healthful and healing ways of living. She is an alumnus of the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design.
When did you know you were an artist?
I’ve always known being an artist was a possibility or a choice. My mother is an artist, as well as two of my aunts. It has always been supported, but I’ve veered away from it to some degree. I had an idea in my mind of what it was- and I wasn’t interested in it. That said, I’ve always participated in some form of art making my whole life. When I was a kid, I drew all the time and thought I wanted to be a graphic novelist, an animator, or even a fashion designer.
In college, I continued to paint or illustrate in my free time and even as a professional designer, I often incorporated illustration into my work and paint on the side. I didn’t really commit to the idea that I wanted to be an artist until just a few years ago – something that was really spearheaded by the pandemic. I think I finally saw the lifestyle that I wanted, and it required rearranging my life and finding passion outside of a 9-5 job. I realized I had more I wanted to say then I initially thought, and art was a language I could connect with others in a more profound way.
What concept or theme and medium are you most interested in currently?
I’m currently interested in juxtaposing many different elements in art. Whether its contrasting in its mediums, textures, colors or compositional parts I love seeing the marriage of unexpected things. That, but always with a designer’s touch – I can’t seem to get away from composing things minimally and in a somewhat balanced way. Right now I’m really enjoying the cleanliness it provides to the more chaotic elements of the work.
I always like to keep sustainability and the environment in my mind and in my process. My practice isn’t perfect in that respect, yet but it’s also such a small-scale production currently that I know it’s okay and I can keep working at it. I try to reuse, recycle and be efficient with the materials I have, while I use my platform to bring awareness to the topic as much as possible.
As artists, we create things on such a small scale- compared to companies that mass produce disposable products- that we really might be doing more good by talking about whats going on or taking care in our daily lives than criticize artists for the materials that we do use. Obviously, we will keep working on our part also, but it’s good to focus our greater attention where it’s currently needed.
What is it about using bold or contrasting color that is of most interest to you?
I love color. I always have, but even more so in the past few years. I was initially inspired by the colors provided in the California sun, or the simplicity of the minimal but saturated palette from when I started this practice- but at this point the palette is wide reaching and is somewhat unrestricted. I started to admire the individual relationships between colors that Josef Albers really shined a light to and loved that color can say just as much or more than composition, representation, or craft. Which is why I’ve left my paintings so minimal – color then becomes one of the main characters in an open narrative – unrestrained by figurative associations.
Color is really having a moment in mainstream culture, right now, which I’m enjoying. People are more open to bolder and unexpected color combinations and this makes the work more accessible and acceptable. Colors are like many things – different in different contexts.
I’ve always struggled with the question “what’s your favorite color?” because one color has an infinite number of affects based on the colors it’s paired with. And, of course in design, we are taught what colors have what effect in certain industries, and even how the relationships help create a practical system- but to truly see the colors just for their relationships with each other is such a pure and powerful experience. And a way to connect with people on another level. In a way thats non-associative, non-pragmatic, more emotional, and more intuitive.
The biggest challenge is predicting how the colors might change with scale and lighting, mixing the right amounts of colors and matching them when needed. But I have a pretty good system for all that so the challenges are just a simple part of the process now.
How does the process begin, and how long do your large canvases take to create from concept to execution?
The paintings begin a few different ways. Usually with a concept for a series that includes the ideas for the first few pieces. The direction for this show is the culmination of one series I’d already been working on that was then blindsided by a vision in my head of a new series that came to me one night when I couldn’t sleep. Thats a very strange time for me… right before bed, when I’m in the right mindset, I often have very vivid original abstract images come to me and I’ll have to write down or sketch what I see and the colors I’m experiencing.
From there I’m off and running – I’m making sketches, doing hundreds of small color tests. I begin by making some small test paintings for technique and mediums and then I’ll start diving into the larger work. Once we get here the pressure is on and I get more and more analytical. I try to keep things light and flowing while planning each step. It’s hard to keep myself in that balance because swinging too far one way or the other can really effect the feeling of the work but its also great mental practice for me.
At the end, once I’ve moved through a few pieces, I begin to look back at the older ones and make adjustments as I learn about the series as a whole. The breaks can be really effective in seeing the work authentically and I allow myself as many breaks as the work may need. At some point they feel finished and I’m at peace. I may learn a thing or two about how I would do it differently the next time, but I’m always accepting of how each work presents itself as a mirror of a certain time and circumstance of myself.
What are the main differences between your abstract and your graphic figurative paintings to you?
My figurative pieces have the element of cultural and symbolic associations to them that aren’t as prevalent in my abstract work. I’m using a different set of artistic tools to juxtapose in each world and I love both for what they provide. I’m a material maximalist and theoretical minimalist so each of these visual languages adheres to a different part in me.
The minimalism of the abstract work is freeing and open. Commenting on nothing in specific but touching at the core of many things. The figurative work is specific and can bounce off materials and colors in a more poignant and cultural way that the abstract work may not. I really love both worlds. It’s one of many dichotomies in my life – I’m constantly seeing opposites and loving the mixtures and differences they provide.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who are in tune with the world outside of the prescribed cultural or social notions of it. I like to explore the work of other artists, of activists, authors, naturalists, etc.
My emotions are deeply connected to exciting visual stimuli, but I think I’ve gained more by just reading about people, their lives, their processes, their priorities, and their thoughts because even if the work is not the same I can relate to the journey of searching for solutions/therapy/beauty/a way of life- whether it culminates into art, writing, an outlook, a habit, a ritual, a community, or a solution. I’m looking for a way of thinking and living that is fulfilling, helpful, and connecting. And for me, it happens to incorporate art.
Has the concept(s) or theme that your work revolves around evolved over time?
I’ve always been drawn to opposing techniques in my work, but they would typically stay pretty homogenous within each project. This show and subsequent two series has really taught me to plan, think through and marry opposites and find acceptance when a balance isn’t always met. It then reveals a whole new type of beauty in the more unexpected and unpredictable moments of life and visual outcomes.
Do you have a favorite technique?
No. Well, yes and no. Same with colors, I love them all for the contexts where they shine. But I obviously utilize a few techniques over and over so they are my aesthetic preference for sure – hand painted hard-edge painting (currently without the help of tape), pulling painting across the canvas, dripping, drawing fast and slow with an oil stick, and occasionally spray paint.
What about your creative process have you found to be the most successful for you?
I find I’m most successful when I take care to do a lot of tests and sketches. I definitely don’t always want to. I love instant gratification like anyone else, but I don’t get it if I’m not prepared. Not just for the benefit of a predetermined plan, but to get myself aligned with the materials, what to expect from them, and what best way to control or not control them. The sketches and swatches are there to hold my spot for the next time and to jump into my thoughts and the process more easily after a break.
What inspired the concept behind your upcoming exhibit, “Fields” ?
I’m constantly seeking ways to bring subtlety, nuance, and an appreciation for difference into visual form as I observe the extremes through which humans often interpret in our lives. My attraction to contrasted artistic elements mirrors my curiosity with tensions that exist in the larger world between thinking in opposites and balance.
The exploration of these juxtaposed characteristics is meant to echo the entangled relationships we have to one another, to nature, to our built systems, and to our compulsion to manufacture control. I like to pare these dichotomies down to their most elemental visual forms; spontaneous marks, geometric shapes, and colors to create a vibrant dialogue within abstraction that hopefully allows us a safe space to encounter tension and acceptance.
What else are you working on or looking forward to in the near future?
I’m working on a new series on glass as well as some new multimedia work that incorporates a bit more of my digital skills, as well as another painting series on canvas that is both figurative and abstract. I know it’s a lot to be working on at one time, haha, but having a lot of different things is what makes all of those works stronger. It keeps me thinking about different topics and techniques. I like to stay stimulated! But those are all slow going at the moment.
I’m also applying to artist residencies and if all goes well I should be planning for a month long residency in Tokyo, Japan. I like to get out of my routine and see something new every once in a while to gain perspective and new ideas. It’s necessary to our health to give ourselves those breaks.
FIELDS: MARTYNA ALEXANDER SOLO EXHIBITION
OPENING RECEPTION APRIL 9TH 6-9PM
ON VIEW THROUGH MAY 14TH 2022
2845 GRATIOT AVENUE, DETROIT MI 48207
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