Ron Martin was born in London, Ontario, in 1943. He attended Beal Tech between 1960 and 1964, emerging, as his contemporary Greg Curnoe later remarked, ‘at a moment of high energy, moving into a community where the pressure was on to rent a downtown studio and do original, serious things.’
Martin shared his first studio with fellow Beal Tech graduate, Murray Favro, for two years. Curnoe, slightly older, was a marked influence, for his own work in painting and collage, and through his interest in and promotion of artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters.
His first solo show, of ‘Pop Collages’, was mounted at Toronto’s Pollock Gallery in February of 1966. As Dennis Reid has written in his Concise History of Canadian Painting (2nd ed. 1988): ‘The philosophical and theoretical nature of Martin’s approach to art is apparent as early as 1967 when he began working on a series of pieces he called Conclusions and Transfers. In response to a remark of Marcel Duchamp’s about the “gap” in representational painting between the subject (the thing painted) and the object (the painting itself), Martin sought to bridge this by making an abstract painting (always in homage to an artist he admired), creating an exact copy, and hanging the two together as a single work.
The series continued through 1969, stimulating experiments in watercolour that began to reveal to him that the reality of a painting resided entirely in its material nature. Seeking to investigate that nature more closely, he developed a conceptual system of painting dividing a canvas of fixed dimensions (all but one are 213.4 x 152.4 cm.) into one-inch squares, and filling each with three simple strokes of acrylic paint in the shape of an N, alternating the direction of the strokes between horizontal and vertical (N Z N), and choosing the colour of each stroke from eight basic hues (the spectrum and brown and black), according to a predetermined pattern.
The “meaning” of these World Paintings, as he called them, resides in the viewer’s experience of the perceptual phenomena they display. Each is a highly individualistic shimmer of optically blended colour that relaxes and contracts, shifts and ripples as we attempt to isolate parts or absorb larger areas.