Donald Martiny crafts his giant gestural paintings by pulling and pushing a massive brush loaded with polymer medium across an aluminum “canvas,” creating thick, colorful brushstrokes. He then cuts each stroke free, mounts it on brackets and hangs it on the wall, thereby “making a gesture into an object,” he says.
The work shown here, Bonheur de Vivre (2023), comprises six separate brushstrokes, in mustard yellow, cocoa brown, pale azure, millennial pink and two grassy shades of green, assembled in a composition that pulsates with energy.
Conceived for “Urpflanze,” his recent solo show at Madison Gallery, in Solana Beach, California, Bonheur de Vivre was inspired by Martiny’s longtime study of Henri Matisse’s painting of the same name, which lives at the Barnes Foundation, in Philadelphia, and portrays naked figures dancing, playing music and otherwise disporting themselves in nature.
“I wanted to make a painting that showed peace and love,” says Martiny, who works in a barnlike studio in Connecticut near his home. “I look at art history all the time, and this is probably one of the loveliest ideas I could possibly think of when there are so many negative things going on in the world.”
The piece was made at the tail end of an exciting year, filled with what Martiny calls “a cyclone of work,” including two enormous commissions: one for Dubai’s new über-blingy resort Atlantis The Royal and another for the glass-fronted lobby of the Visa building in Atlanta.
He also joined the illustrious list of artists, such as Alex Katz and Ellsworth Kelly, who have worked with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, creating sets and collaborating on costume color choices for Somewhere in the Middle, choreographed by Amy Hall Garner, which premiered last November.
The New York Times called the dance’s message “mainly unabashed joy,” and that’s what Martiny was aiming for here. “My paintings are a celebration of color and form and life,” he says. “Life is movement.”