Mary Martin

Perspex Group on Orange (B)


Mary Martin 1907–1969
Perspex and wood
Object: 607 x 609 x 233 mm
Presented by Tate Members 2005


Perspex Group on Orange (B) 1969 consists of seven differently-sized quadrilateral pieces of Perspex glued together and assembled in the centre of a large, thin, square orange Perspex sheet, which is mounted onto a wooden panel. Two of the seven pieces are black, two are white, two are transparent, and one is fluorescent pink. These elements are affixed variously in plane with the large Perspex sheet and at right angles to it and each other, creating a three-dimensional relief. When displayed, Perspex Group on Orange (B) has an additional smaller wooden mount fixed onto the back which serves to position the work away from the wall.

British painter and sculptor Mary Martin abandoned her early figurative work in 1950 and made her first abstract relief in 1951. She first began to use plastics in 1954 and her Perspex Group 1963 (Tate T12401) appears to have been the first work she made using Perspex exclusively. Between 1967 and her death in 1969 Martin made at least five versions of Perspex Group on Orange, each one distinguished by the minor variations in the placement and size of the individual elements, and by the bracketed letters A to E appended to their titles (see, for example, Perspex Group on Orange (E) 1967, reproduced in Tate Gallery 1984, p.45). During this period she also made relief works assembled on Perspex sheets of colours other than orange, including groupings on blue, white, red and cream (see Huddersfield Art Gallery 2004, pp.66–75).

Martin explained the process by which she constructed these Perspex works, re-working different permutations of the same basic elements: ‘One commences with a single cell, or unit, a logical process of growth is applied and the whole, or the effect, is unforeseen until the work is complete.’ (Quoted in Paul Martin, ‘Mary Martin on Mary Martin’, in Huddersfield Art Gallery 2004, pp.42–3.) In 1984 her son Paul Martin outlined the mathematical system underpinning the Perspex groupings, citing the Fibonacci sequence – a numerical series that proceeds according to the sum of the previous two numbers – as determining the increasing size of each successive Perspex plane (Paul Martin, ‘Analysis of Selected Works’, in Tate Gallery 1984, p.45).

Curators Celia Davies and Sarah Martin have argued that the suite of Perspex reliefs Martin produced between 1967 and 1969 represent her most explicit engagement with machine-made materials, an interest they attribute to the influence of the American artist and theorist Charles Biederman (1906–2004) (Celia Davies and Sarah Martin, ‘Introduction’, in Camden Arts Centre 2007, pp.8–9). Biederman began a correspondence with Martin in 1955 after seeing her early relief works, and the connections their work seems to maintain may be evidenced by his Structurist Relief, Red Wing No.20 1954–65 (Tate T00882).

Martin’s work can also be assessed within the context of the post-war British constructionist movement. Along with her husband Kenneth Martin and Victor Pasmore, she was one of the influential early practitioners of constructionism, which developed the ideas of the interwar constructivist movement by emphasising geometric forms, deploying mathematical patterns, and using mass-produced materials.

Further reading
Mary Martin, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1984, p.45.
Mary Martin 1907–1969: The End is Always to Achieve Simplicity, exhibition catalogue, Huddersfield Art Gallery, Huddersfield 2004, reproduced p.68.
Kenneth Martin and Mary Martin: Constructed Works, exhibition catalogue, Camden Arts Centre, London 2007.

Jonathan Vernon
February 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

Perspex Group on Orange (B) is one of a series of coloured constructions known as the ‘Large
Perspex Group’ Martin made shortly before her death. In keeping with the artist’s rigorously abstract aesthetic based on mathematical principles, the size of each plane is determined by the Fibonacci series. Thus, in succession, the dimensions of each plane are determined by using the largest dimension of the one preceding. The artist made four different permutations out of the 720 possible with six elements.

Gallery label, September 2016

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