Kenneth Martin

Pier and Ocean


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Kenneth Martin 1905–1984
Screenprint on paper
Image: 638 × 895 mm
Purchased 1982

Catalogue entry

P07743 Pier and Ocean 1980

Screenprint 25 1/8 × 35 1/4 (638 × 895) on two sheets: white paper with tracing paper overlay, printed at Editions Média, Neuchâtel and published by Waddington Graphics
Inscribed ‘Kenneth Martin 80’ b.r. and ‘57/70’
Purchased from Waddington Graphics (Grant-in-Aid) 1982

The title ‘Pier and Ocean’ [P07743] derives from the paintings by Mondrian of the same name but refers more directly to the Pier and Ocean exhibition, held at the Hayward Gallery, May–June 1980, which inspired Martin's print. ‘Venice’ [P07742] was created at the same time and is closely related. The theme of the exhibition is, therefore, germane to the meaning of both these works. Originally intended as a history of Constructivism, the movement with which Martin was connected from the early fifties onwards, its aim was subsequently modified. Instead of presenting Constructivism as the unbroken evolution of a stylistic consensus, the exhibition postulated a break in continuity and a shift in the concept of space for which 1968 is seen as a turning point. Gerhard von Graevenitz selected the exhibition and explained the title as follows: ‘The space of 70s art is an open space, to which the individual artwork relates as the pier does to the ocean. The ocean defines the pier and gives it its meaning: for the circumscribed always draws its meaning from the uncircumscribed’ (Pier and Ocean, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, May–June 1980, p.6). The conceptual basis of Martin's work from 1970 onwards is founded on this concept of ‘open space’ which is developed here beyond the sense of physical space normally understood in relation to Constructivism to embrace also ‘mental space’ and ‘the inner space of memory and imagination’ (Pier and Ocean exhibition catalogue, p.6). For Martin, the most important constituent of this expanded concept of space is time. Martin recognised that change through movement is a universal law and therefore saw all art objects as kinetic, irrespective of whether they move or are framed, because their existence is generated by a sequence of events which are a function of time. Martin stated that he was ‘fascinated by the ways in which movement can create form’ (from ‘The Development of the Mobile’, unpublished, June 1955, quoted in Kenneth Martin, exhibition catalogue, Waddington and Tooth Galleries, June 1978, p.2) and in his own work this is manifested in an interest in process and progression in which chance is the main determining factor. This statement also alludes to the fact that for Martin, the meaning of the forms which constitute a work is inseparable from the nature of their origin in that the conceptual relationship between object and idea is itself given form. ‘Pier and Ocean’ and ‘Venice’ are related, in the way in which they were created, to the series of paintings, drawings and prints called ‘Chance and Order’ which Martin worked on from 1970 until his death and whose origin Martin described as follows: Recently I have made works which combine chance and programming in the time sequence of activity ...Not only does chance define position, it gives sequence also. The points of intersection on a grid of squares are numbered and the numbers are written on small cards and then picked at random. A line is made between each successive pair of numbers as they are picked out. In early drawings, to show and use the fact that each direction was drawn in sequence, a system of parallel lines was invented. They were always on the same side of the direction throughout a work. Chance determined the sequence and also the number of parallel lines to each. 1 line would serve for the first drawn, 2 for the second, 3 for the third and so on. Each block of lines was drawn underneath the preceding ones and did not pass through them (One, October 1973, p.6).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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