Kenneth Martin

Spiral Construction


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Not on display

Kenneth Martin 1905–1984
Brass and bronze
Object: 171 × 171 × 248 mm
Purchased 1962

Catalogue entry


Phosphor bronze and brass, 171 x 171 x 248 mm (6 3/4 x 6 3/4 x 9 ¾ in), on a wooden base 150 x 200 x 20 mm (5 7/8 x 8 1/8 x ¾ in)
Purchased from the artist through the Lords Gallery, London (Grant-in-Aid) 1962

Kenneth Martin: A Retrospective Exhibition, Lords Gallery, London, October-November 1962 (31)
Documenta 4, Kassel, June-October 1968 (8)

Tate Gallery Review 1953-63 and Report 1962-3, London 1963, p.55
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, vol.II, London 1965, p.428

Spiral Construction was made at the same time and on the same small scale as the maquettes for Kenneth Martin’s fountain for Brixton College of Further Education, 1960-1.[1] Rather than curved tubing, it used straight lengths of 3 mm (1/8 inch) square section phosphor bronze bar. These were secured with liberal amounts of silver solder, and the surface was polished and lacquered. In structure, it relates to a more severe group of Linear Constructions, such as Linear Construction, 1962 (Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea),[2] in which the bars were assembled in rectangular or triangular structures. The spiral of the Tate work, passing from triangles to quadrilaterals, can be seen emanating from the upright structure. Soon after its acquisition, the artist commented: ‘All these works are so to speak rhythms in space. They are constructed journeys in space. They define space and result in an image’.[3]

In his analysis of the Linear Constructions, Michael Compton revealed how the artist used sequences based on root-2 measurements and upon the Fibonacci Series.[4] These Martin modified by his own ‘booster rhythm’, which essentially constituted the insertion of diminishing lengths within an increasing sequence. Spiral Construction does not appear to follow the scheme strictly, but its spiral is begun by thirteen bars of increasing or similar measurements after which varying reversions to earlier shorter lengths are then introduced, constituting the ‘booster rhythm’

Although executed on a modest scale, Spiral Construction demonstrates concerns shared with artists such as Max Bill. In his suite of lithographs Quinze variations sur un même thême, 1935-8,[5] Bill had explored the potential of geometrical forms (triangle, square, pentagon etc.) progressively linked in a spiral. Around the same time he had made an open-work stainless steel structure based upon square and triangular units Construction de trente éléments égaux, 1938-9,[6] which had strong similarities to Martin’s Linear Constructions; it was reproduced in Anthony Hill’s ‘Constructivism - the European Phenomenon’.[7]

Matthew Gale
August 1996

[1] Reproduced in Kenneth Martin, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1975, p.117.
[2] Reproduced, ibid., p.131, no.46, in colour.

[3] Kenneth Martin, letter to Tate, 31 January 1963, Tate Gallery cataloguing files.

[4] Michael Compton, ‘Analysis of Selected Works’, in Andrew Forge and others, Kenneth Martin, London 1975, pp.26-8.

[5] Reproduced in Valentina Anker, Max Bill ou la recherche d’un art logique, Lausanne, 1979, pp.72-9.
[6] Reproduced ibid. p.134.
[7] Anthony Hill, ‘Constructivism - the European Phenomenon’, Studio International, April 1966, p.142.

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