John Martin's Toolbox
November 10, 2018 – January 1, 2019
Institute 193 (1B), New York
Reach into John Martin’s toolbox and you won’t find rusty metal wrenches, old hammers, or runaway screws. In their place lies a vast array of chunky ceramic sculptures, styled with dynamic colors and exaggerated shapes. Too large to be operable and too fragile to be functional, Martin’s tools are the primary method of interaction with the objects that fascinate him. Tools are born from the human imagination, dictated by our goals to work faster, build stronger, and reach further. They make us as we make them. Raised on a farm, tools and machinery were part of Martin’s daily life. He wasn’t allowed to—and still doesn’t—use conventional tools, but they are omnipresent in his work. He draws them. He paints them. He sculpts them in wood and shapes them in clay. Despite a lack of first-hand use, Martin acquired a visual vocabulary of tools from years of observation on his family’s farm. Martin’s sculptures invite us to separate the physical tool from our notions of it; what does a tool become when it is no longer practical?
Martin was born in Mississippi in 1963 and spent most of his childhood on his family’s farm in Arkansas. Years later, he moved to Oakland, California to live with his grandmother and aunt, where he began working with Creative Growth in 1987. Martin has always collected watches and keys, and over the past decade built a large collection of found tools. However, his signature images of knives, hammers, and saws go back to his experience as a child on his family’s farm.
Creative Growth is a non-profit art studio that supports artists with developmental disabilities. Their large facility offers resources like a ceramic studio, sewing and quilting equipment, and a range of two-dimensional mediums. Creative Growth also provides a gallery and representation to their artists.
Shop John Martin x Institute 193 tees here.