PRINT April 2022


Cameron Martin, Deluge, 2021, triptych, acrylic on canvas, each panel 66 × 53".

A DECADE AGO, painter Cameron Martin abandoned full-bleed compositions and the “inherent illusionism” (as he explained it at the time) of motifs that spread edge to edge across the support. He began to bracket selected details of his source images—natural environments appropriated from found photos and his own snapshots—within increasingly emphatic framing devices. The paintings remain recognizable as landscapes, if mediated by redoubled borders and geometric overlays. Their blanched geographies, rendered in gray scale, are cropped, as if to emphasize the genre’s ever-encroaching gaze, its wanton ambition for visual if not actual possession. By 2014, he’d begun working without sources, centering the conventions of picturing without recourse to the nominal content of peaks and vistas, defoliated trees and parched earth. He maintained a standardized size of twenty by sixteen inches for these now-vertical, hard-edge abstractions, to make it easier for viewers to appreciate the variability of works whose shared operating principles might have been expected to produce redundancies. Factureless despite Martin’s involved and often recursive manual methods of stenciling, spraying, and sanding, they conjure the aesthetic effects of screens; they also share high-key, unnameable colors, redolent of the digital interfaces that occasioned as well as produced them.

Cameron Martin, Actuary, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 20 × 16".

A new series of larger-scale canvases, a selection of which will go on view on April 14 at New York’s Sikkema Jenkins, extends Martin’s palette of terrifically specific artificial brightness. The artist likewise has further developed his process, introducing intricate procedural loops that contradict the notion that gesture is key to expressivity, even while keeping hold of the handmade. He renders on the computer and then uses ever more complex stencils to transfer drawings to the canvas; layers of impossibly thin surface accumulate and appear printed, but they aren’t. Their acrylics are misted and troweled and occasionally applied by brush. The shift in dimensions (these works range from twenty by sixteen inches to eighty-five by sixty-eight inches) has intensified the paintings’ optical flicker, for a kind of psychedelic moiré effect. Shapes and patterns seem to possess a lenticular mutability.

These paintings bespeak a desire for meaning despite themselves.

The larger scale has additionally, and perhaps somewhat paradoxically given the literal amplification of perceptual cuing, instigated a stronger sense of the works’ own material register and, by extension, of all the ways in which virtual experience is never purely virtual, but rather is ineluctably bound up with embodiment and the physical world. It isn’t just that the works are bigger. They are heuristics elucidating the properties of algorithmic functions and how outputs shift according to variables, actual size being one of them. They manifest an “asymptotic disposition towards language, [and] also to appropriation,” as Martin put it recently. Perhaps it is not surprising that he reaches for the conceptual vocabulary of computer science, modeling its descriptive insights in the imaging of limit behavior under necessarily changeable conditions.

Cameron Martin, Sunblind, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 75 × 60".

In Sunblind, 2021, black marks arc atop a citrus-yellow pegboard-like field and circular apertures that open onto white and pale pink; orange and black ribbons dance on some indeterminate plane among these elements. In their exaggerated curvature, the ribbons express something like dimensionality keyed to movement, now arrested but maybe poised to resume. The triptych Deluge, 2021, complicates these internal spatial relations—this dramatization of opening into phenomenal ambience and recessing into intangible depth, of extending and being contained—by separating four ribbons (these in shades of blue and turquoise) into multiple panels. Martin connects activity across them, broaching issues of how to mediate the threshold of supports that are ideological as well as material controls. In Harbinger, 2021, the articulated stroke forms a focal calligraphy. The meandering tracery averts collision with the edge except in one section at left, where it parallels and slides down the border erected by a thin purple rectangle that outlines the scene; it exaggerates instead of checks the implausibility of a pictorial space in which willfully misaligned forms seep off register, making it that much more difficult to map its arrangement onto a coherent Euclidean framework.

Cameron Martin, Harbinger, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 85 × 68".

Like some of Martin’s other imagery—spheres, or what appear to be gel filters, or a stylized basket weave—these ribbonlike strokes approach reference. They allude not only to AbEx but also to other artists, from Roy Lichtenstein to Christopher Wool, who have questioned the fable of autographic articulacy encoded in the modernist gesture. Taken together, the paintings bespeak a desire for meaning despite themselves. They show vital relationships, some responsive and others aloof, parts unconcerned with others—and none necessarily asserting priority. Rather, all remain resolutely antihierarchical, and maybe antiteleological, too, in acknowledging the simultaneity of reference as an analogue for other kinds of possibility. Writing of the cultural history of what she names the “virtual window,” media theorist Anne Friedberg points out that the moving image that had the screen all to itself—a latter-day version of Vasari’s plenitude—was ubiquitous until the overlapping planes of the computer display. This has implications for the subject’s position, no longer fixed or determined but nevertheless assumed. For Martin, there is a generosity to this logic, compensatory though it may be.

“Cameron Martin” opens April 14 at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Suzanne Hudson is an associate professor of art history and fine arts at the University of Southern California.