Kenneth Martin 1905 - 1984


Waddington & Tooth Galleries, London

Alex Bernstein

Private Collection, UK, since November 2003


London, Waddington and Tooth Galleries, Kenneth Martin, Recent Works, 1 - 24 June 1978, cat no.4 illus b/w


New Haven, Yale Centre for British Art, Kenneth Martin, 18 April - 17 June 1979, cat. no.70, illus p87


Kenneth Martin, Chance and Order, The Sixth William Townsend Lecture, Waddington Galleries, London, 1979, p12, cat no.14, the preparatory study for this painting is illustrated in b/w


Kenneth and Mary Martin were key figures in a new wave of British Constructivist art which began in the 1950s. Inspired by the theories of the American artist Charles Biederman, their art carried on from the abstract art made in Hampstead
in the 1930s by Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Russian émigré Naum Gabo.
Naturally occuring proportional systems and rhythms underpin Kenneth Martin’s geometrical art. The composition of this painting, and others in the Chance and Order series, was entirely determined by a drawing prior to its execution on canvas. On paper, a square was marked out with a grid and numbered along all sides, and at each intersection. The same numbers were then written on pieces of paper and selected at random from a box or bag. Numbers were drawn in pairs – the first two numbers gave the coordinates for a single line, the second pair would decide a double line, the third pair a triple line and so on.

Further rules determine how lines behave as they cross (whether they cross under or over, or stop, or prompt the creation of another parallel line). The drawing associated with this painting shows that Martin selected 24 pairs of numbers, working from a single line up to a line of eight, three times. Each painting in the series was governed by its own predetermined system of rules. By placing formal restrictions on his practice, Martin sought to create a ‘universal language’ which
minimised the individual expression of the artist in favour of naturally derived patterns. In practice, the number of drawings Martin generated far exceeded the number of finished paintings.

Despite the conditions Martin created to limit his influence, the selection of which drawings to make into paintings was made on aesthetic grounds and the scale and manner of their making remained within his control. The formal beauty of these paintings depends then upon both Martin’s systematic approach and his refined aesthetic sensibility.