Samson Martin | We We Kojo | At Tristian Koenig

Samson Martin, Autumn Sequence: Autumn Prelude/Autumn Leaves/Autumn Echo, 2015
Courtesy the artist and Tristian Koenig

“Control liberates. Control leads to total invention and endlessness. There are infinite possibilities once you set parameters.”

Part tapestry, part textile, part tribal pattern, Samson Martin’s paintings resemble decorative objects from an ancient clan you’ve never heard of. Like many laborious folk crafts – knitting, weaving, beading, quilting – the paintings in Martin’s new exhibition We We Kojo (at Tristian Koenig until 21 November) are the product of a careful alternation between repetition and variety, formula and improvisation, communication and decoration.

Samson Martin, Symphony for Improvisers, 2015
Courtesy the artist and Tristian Koenig

Martin usually begins by slicing and splicing material together, building a new substrate to paint on.  For We We Kojo, Martin wove together lengths of hessian ribbon and fixed them to the stretcher bars of his picture frames. The hessian that Martin uses is itself made from woven jute fibres. So before he’s even begun to paint, Martin has transformed the painting surface into multiple layers of rough cross-hatched grids. This approach has been part of Martin’s practice for a while now. A show in May this year at Caves gallery featured the same straps of hessian, and a few years earlier at Arc One Gallery Martin interlaced imagery from newspapers and stock market reports, creating a surface of pre-determined diamonds and diagonals. “There was always a grid evident,” he says, “It’s always controlled the marks.”

By working in this way, Martin transforms the picture surface into thousands of tiny sub-canvases, onto which he can only paint the smallest stroke. He forces himself to reduce the size of his gesture, limiting himself to tiny micro-marks. It sounds like a painstaking and tedious way to make work, and it is Martin agrees, but it’s also liberating. “You don’t have to go to the studio every day and come up with fresh languages,” he explains, “…You get to the studio and it’s all there in front of me. I just make the pattern and that pattern becomes endless.”

Samson Martin, The Duel, Two Psychic Lovers and Eating Time, 2015
Courtesy the artist and Tristian Koenig

Martin’s paintings are flat, not flat like a photograph but like fabric. Instead of layering paint on top of paint, building an image up out of the canvas, Martin layers his paint laterally. A picture gradually becomes more complex and more detailed by adding marks sideways. (He repeatedly refers to his micro-marks as ‘information’ and the process of painting as creating ‘layers of information’). “It’s lines and patterns on top of one another, but they never occlude each other, it’s all there simultaneously,” he says, “I’ve always been interested in that, having image on image on image but having it all visible. You can see all the information.”

Of course revealing each individual mark, making them all visible simultaneously, is also a way of revealing what a tedious slog it was to paint them. As with a lot of folk craft, the labour of production is on display. “You can see all the making in the picture. You can look right through the whole process of making it. It’s quite transparent,” he goes on, “I like to push the studio labour and the idea of labour and work to the front." But that decision is as much an expression of his personal taste and anxiety as it is ideological. “Craftsmanship can make it not date horribly. It has an integrity to it, which I’m drawn to. … If it’s laborious it will have a status, and will hopefully maintain its appeal for a long time.”

>> Maura Edmond
>> 4 November 2015

Samson Martin, Cocktail Piece, 2015
Courtesy the artist and Tristian Koenig

Samson Martin
We We Kojo
22 October - 21 November, 2015
Tristian Koenig
19 Glasshouse Road, Collingwood
Thurs - Sat 12pm - 5pm