Barry Martin is one of a generation of British artists who began making kinetic sculptures in the mid-1960s. This unique linoprint pre-dates his machine works, but demonstrates his early interest in depicting movement. The print, which uses a limited palette of black, white and blue, features blocks of cross-hatched colour, structured in a series of overlapping spirals which suggest rotary movement. Circular forms interlock like cogs with a series of smaller serpentine shapes echoing the overall composition. Broad horizontal and vertical hatching in the picture’s background reinforces the industrial feel of the image, as well as alluding to other shorthand visual expressions of movement: go-faster stripes and the staccato dashes that denote speed in comic strips and cartoons. The cool blue highlighted with white anticipates the metallic surface Martin was later to use in his constructions.
The print relates closely to two of the artist’s sculptures in Tate’s Collection, Metal Surface, 1964 (Tate T07603) and Double Ringed Movement, 1966 (Tate T07604), which incorporate motors that produce circular motion at different speeds. The print is a static representation of movement, and owes a debt to Futurist depictions of velocity and Cubist experiments with fractured viewpoints. Martin has spoken of his early two-dimensional works as attempts to depict a frozen moment in time. He explained, ‘the notion of instance was seized upon in the earlier paintings and sets of circumstances were frozen into them’ (Martin, p.29).
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was a key influence on Martin’s work of this period. In The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-23 (Tate T02011) and related works including Coffee Mill, 1911 (Tate T03253), Duchamp created a complex representation of desire as a quasi-mechanical process. The suggestion of rotary movement is a key element in the frustrated process of communication between the bachelors and the effervescent bride in The Large Glass, while the grinding action of Coffee Mill is a metaphor for masturbation. In Three Interlocking Spirals, Martin seems to be attempting to use a similar metaphorical language to suggest an affinity between motorised movement and emotional engagement.
The circular or rotary movement typical of Martin’s work in the 1960s seems to be a manifestation of the artist’s particular way of structuring reality. In a contemporary interview, Martin described his interpersonal relationships in terms of a circular movement between himself and the outside world. It could be argued that the artist’s sustained interest in what he refers to as ‘a finite structure centering inwards’ (Martin, p.14) could be read in autobiographical terms as an attempt by a young artist (he was eighteen when he made this print) to approach and address the world.
Barry Martin, exhibition catalogue, Galerija Rigo, Novigrad-Cittanova, Croatia, 2003, reproduced p.15 in colour.
Barry Martin, Light & Movement: Paintings & Sculpture 1960-1974, London, 1984, reproduced p.8.