Last year, artist Martin Webb began walking around his neighborhood at night taking dimly lit photographs. He was intrigued by the way that landscapes once familiar to him seemed to transform in the darkness. Without people visibly inhabiting the houses, they began to take on new meaning. Then, he traveled to the Eastern Sierras to seek out abandoned mining towns. Those houses, also empty, were no longer distinct from the natural landscape that surrounded them, and instead were collapsing onto themselves and the landscape organically.
In his new body of work, currently on view at the Compound Gallery in the show Many Streams, Webb has eliminated all figures from his paintings. Instead, he embarks on a study of houses, exploring the similarities and differences between wild and urban landscapes. Color blocking with a warm, limited pallet, Webb depicts house after house on square wooden panels that line the walls of the gallery. In doing so, he builds a small cluster of structures, each flattened to reveal its core geometric foundation, sometimes with piles of wooden planks sitting in the foreground like colorful ‘X’s drawn on the ground. The buildings are not foreboding yet do not welcome visitors. They simply stand alone.
Sarah Burke, East Bay Express, June 2015
The Studio Work
Press for Stanford Art Spaces
Webb’s work is as aesthetically solid as its hardware-store materials. Webb: “My work comes from thoughts about people, places, and home; about age, time, and timelessness, permanence and impermanence; about movement, migration, and belonging. People and places are depicted in images and objects that combine simple representations, layered abstractions, and plain-spoken materials.” Webb’s direct, unfussy approach to materials, his low-key palette, and restrained lyricism link him, for me, with Jasper Johns, who occasionally depicted himself as a shadow or silhouette. Webb’s “Super 8,” “Jacob Lawrence’s Shovel, ” and his “Day Labor” series are powerful yet understated sociopolitical paintings about daily existence that render contemporary life, especially the unsung global 99%, quietly heroic, asking of the viewer only imagination and empathy.
DeWitt Cheng, July 2014.
Saatchi Art: Inside the studio
Huffington Post preview of Made For You And Me
To experience the work in "Made for You and Me: New Work by Martin Webb", opening June 15 at The Compound Gallery in Oakland, is to come across sophisticated folk art, conceptually vigorous, visually intriguing folk art, in some out of the way place you stop on the way to somewhere else.
The exhibition consists of paintings and a sculptural installation. If the paintings concern themselves with landscapes, then the installation's concerns are more cosmological.
Mr. Webb wrote out the lyrics of Woody Guthrie's iconic folk song, "This Land Is Your Land" on the surface of the paintings. Subsequent layers of paint obstructed most of the words, so they appear subsequently as either design elements or else as a reminder of the passage of time. Of significance, Mr. Webb, originally from Britain, was going through the naturalization process to live in the U.S. The work, then, addresses personal issues of identity and assimilation and more general dynamics of permanence versus impermanence, nature versus human progress, and transformation versus stability.
Made from mixed media, cement, and acrylic on panel, the paintings resemble pictographs, simple maps of landscapes with featureless figures and schematized trees that appear to be seen first from a speeding car or train and then transcribed from memory. Trees and figures appear to be hastily drawn, as if to catch, for future reference, an approximate sense of place and location.
Consisting of 16 recycled freeway guardrail posts, the painted sculpture installation "Grove" resembles a cluster of totem poles arranged in some once-significant but now forgotten pattern. They are made from paint and gold leaf, and finished with wax. Incised just below the surface of the wood, the painted glyphs reference the geometric abstraction of, say, Mondrian and, set against the crude timber, create a visual and conceptual tension between the organic and the man-made.
James Scarborough, Huffington Post, June 2013
Best Western book
A collection of travel paintings from 2006 to 2009. Click the image to browse the book and link to Blurb.com.
Press for Making the Road by Walking
"Searcher, there is no road. We make the road by walking." Taking its name from Antonio Machado's poetry, This show pairs Thomas Haag and Martin Webb, two painters who find inspiration in daily life, and especially travel. Webb just returned from Senegal, where the national slogan is, "Work, Work again, Always work, Keep on working." For this show the artists worked together to a unusual degree, using identical-size square-format birch panels, so the interplay between Haag's colorful surrealism (An emotion moved through us like weather") and Webb's more subdued elusiveness ("If you get there before I do") is nicely balanced. Collage/assemblage, grafitti, figuration, and abstraction combine perfectly in these complementary visual tone poems.
DeWitt Cheng East Bay Express August 10 2011
August, the month of faraway journeys, is the perfect time for a foray to Oakland's Compound gallery for the exhibit "Making the Road by Walking". Featuring two local painters, the summery show draws on their wanderings around the globe.
Inspired by rambles in the American Northwest and Southwest, and more recently along the coast of Senegal, British-born Martin Webb, etches his tales into richly pigmented, cement covered paintings. His drawn abstractions - the wiggles of a river or the outline of a slinking coyote - sink deeply into the stony surface. They're both frozen in time and deeply vivid like the best of travel memories.
Webb interrupts the dreamy lines of his tableaux by burying hinges, wrenches, and bits of metal and wood into the wet canvas - they poke up like geological remnants. Odd as it might be to evoke moving adventures with cement, Webb succeeds in using the pedestrian material with a light touch; he conjures the blur of a pavement unreeling in the wake of a speeding car.
Jeanne Storck East Bay Monthly August 2011
Press for Best Western
The open road exercises the same mythic pull on the American psyche that the frontier did, so it's interesting to get an English artist's take on our dromomania, our travel bug. In his show at Esteban Sabar Gallery, Best Western (named after the motels, of course), Martin Webb records his impressions of going mobile, but in the curious medium of concrete (pigmented with acrylic), which is entirely appropriate, on second thought. He also literally impresses into the paintings the souvenirs of his journeys: keys, gears, and other industrial effluvia are buried in the liquid matrix and later sanded and buffed back to the light of day. These paintings are both maps and archaeological digs; considering the paradoxical medium, they're also delicately also poetic, with symbols for houses and trees midway between Klee pictograms and Department of Transportation signage. The silhouetted figures will remind viewers of Jasper Johns' and William Wiley's phantom self-portraits, but in such paintings as "Super 8," "Headlight," "Walgreen," "West Riding," and "Stage Coach," Webb depicts America's automotive landscape and culture with a lyricism that we lead-footed Yanks mostly miss.
DeWitt Cheng East Bay Express January 30th 2008