Viv Martin












My work has always reflected both my surroundings and the ways in which I view the world around me. The choices I have made about where to be and what roles to take have enabled me to engage with the world in many ways and I am aware that by simply being in any context I have an impact on it and it on me. Making art helps me to make meaning from complexity.

For me, art is about ideas that are understood and expressed visually. The images and the media and forms which manifest the images are the language. As in any other aspect of life, not everyone speaks or understands the same language. Even if they think they do, everyone forms views from an individual perspective, making communication complex. In addition, I recognise the temporary nature of knowledge and the speed with which a new concept can challenge or replace what we used to believe were certainties. In making art, I am firstly concerned with embodying an idea or relationship between ideas. I try to make the focus explicit and to accept a degree of ambiguity in the less focal areas. Although communication with an audience is important to me, I expect that everyone will make their own interpretation of my work and that different interpretations are likely to be made both of what I had thought was explicit and of the ambiguity. For me, success lies in attracting interest and retaining it for a while, engaging others through my art in contemplating visual ideas.

I have become interested in the layering that reflects the development of a work and the possibility of leaving a trail of evidence visible through the layers, showing overlaps and relationships, development of meaning, cross-references and reflections – the history of the making of the work. This referencing may also be between works and part of positioning the work in its context, both physically and in meaning making, relating each work as part of a body of work. This is a much richer approach than the more traditional ‘truth to materials’ approach, but incorporates a respect for materials and process in the evidence trail. This idea also builds on earlier ideas of uniqueness and authenticity, by simultaneously demonstrating the essential core of the work with its layers of development. These ideas also link with a sense of time in developing meaning in a work, making visible and enabling meaning to be revealed. This process helps to develop an undercurrent of intent, seeding and sedimenting the work with evidence of the intentions in its making. Where I used to feel that when a work was finished that there was little or nothing more to work on, I now feel that finishing a work is achieving a temporary balance rather than making a definitive or lasting statement. I also used to avoid ambiguity, thinking that a work could not be finished until it made its point, clearly and unambiguously. Now I recognise that ambiguity is, in itself, a statement about the meaning in a work, revealing areas that are unresolved and might be revisited and reconsidered at a later date.

My work often begins with the experience of being drawn to a place, often places that have attracted people over very long periods of time, stretching back to pre-historic times. I am interested in the moment when we see or perceive a situation in a way that brings an insight or makes a profound meaning. I bring together some elements of the visual experience but also something of the sensed and understood experience, focusing on what made it meaningful for me. Consequently a work might include references to a landscape setting, structures and objects placed there, myself and/or other people, stories or words associated with a place or event and atmospheres or feelings sensed there. Sometimes this has a strong narrative flavour with references to progression over time rather than one moment of awareness. Sometimes there is a focus on one element or aspect, something noticed that forms the beginning of a series of works, for example, the hydrangea head that began my ‘Flower Power’ series.

I have often used printmaking to refresh my work or to try out an idea with a different approach, but recently printmaking has become central to my practice.  Printmakers always work with a tension between materials and techniques and the subject matter that is the focus of the work. In printmaking, new materials have been introduced to replace traditional ones that are more dangerous to use, and alongside this revision of practice there has been a development of new ways of thinking about the opportunities offered by printmaking. This has challenged the traditional but increasingly restrictive practices that had become commonplace as the market for original prints developed, bringing expectations of editioning and use of traditional methods of making and presenting. I have been influenced by Jim Dine’s prints (2009) and his approach to printmaking – his practice has spanned several decades and he has developed an experimental multi-media approach that is large scale but with detail and has texture and strong colour. His combinations of etching with woodcut and screenprint are particularly interesting as they challenge the traditionally claimed unique characteristics of each medium; for example, the plate edge mark of the etching, which would normally be considered important by etchers, may be lost in the layers of working.

I am particularly interested in the relief qualities offered by etching, relief printing and collagraphy. My etching has always emphasised relief and emboss. I was amazed by Howard Hodgkin’s recent series of large etchings, ‘As Time Goes By’ and the earlier ‘Venetian’ series because of the combining of detailed lacy sugar-lift marks alongside very textural carborundum marks and flat, brightly coloured brush marks, all in unusually large-scale prints made from plates 5 feet high and assembled to comprise the etchings that were 20 feet long. I had always thought of etching as constrained by the size of the press bed and this work opened up new possibilities for me, both in use of several different types of materials together and in the possibility of assembling prints to make a larger whole.

Making woodcuts in Japanese plywood has reminded me of the sculptural quality of the carved block itself and the potential to use relief panels in a sculptural form alongside using them as blocks to make prints from.  I have been particularly interested in printmaking where deep relief is an essential part of the image, for example, Peter Ford’s prints of cut tree trunks, made with wet hand-made paper so that it moulds over the relief qualities of grains and splits in the wood. I also find Thomas Kilpper’s woodcut prints (2009) very interesting because of his use of large-scale blocks. Steve Mace’s long project (2009) exploring the Blue Circle cement works made very close associations between the uses of materials as sculpture and as blocks to print from, a direct way of working from experience in a specific setting.

Sandy Sykes has been an important influence, not because of her subject matter but because of the way she combines drawing, painting and printmaking to make books and series of prints.

When a print embodies evidence of the ideas informing its development and processes that have contributed to making it visible, it holds the undercurrent of intention that enables conceptual meaning to be made from it.


Dine, J (on Alan Cristea Gallery website accessed 23 March 2009)

Ford, P (accessed 15 December 2009)

Hodgkin, H.

Kilpper, T. (accessed 23 March 2009)

Mace, S. (2009) ‘Blue Circle’ An exhibition of cement-based print work, University of Brighton, October/November 2009.

Sykes, S. (accessed 23 March 2009)


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