Artist profile

Kenneth Martin

Kenneth Martin is widely regarded as one of the fathers of British Constructivist Art. Having been trained in the realist tradition of Sickert, he came to abstraction in the late 1940s after working as a designer and painting naturalistic pictures for two decades.

As his art evolved he discovered new means of inventing and manipulating basic structural elements. With his Screw Mobile sculptures of the early 1950s he investigated the dynamics of movement exploiting the tension or contrast between stillness and the changes caused by the functions of twist and rotation. 

Towards the end of his life Kenneth Martin embarked on a series of paintings and works on paper which he called the Chance and Order Series. In the simplest versions, a grid was set up on paper and its points of intersection numbered. Corresponding numbers were drawn 'out of a hat' ie. by chance. Each pair of numbers then became a line on the grid. Although the underlying structure remained the same the resulting correspondences produced a seemingly endless succession of combinations. With these works there was therefore a double invitation to explore the paintings and drawings as statements about an inventive process, and to contemplate the products that were generated by that process. The combination of randomness and definite rules left the artist free to invent in an exact sense. You can only develop order but not chance, you can only use the chance again.


Born in Sheffield
Studied at Sheffield School of Art
Worked in Sheffield as a designer
Studied at the Royal College of Art, London
Married Mary Balmford
Visiting teacher at Goldsmiths’ College of Art, London
Gold Medal, President of the Italian Council of Ministers, on the occasion of the International Congress of Artists and Critics at Verucchio
Awarded OBE
Honorary Doctorate, Royal College of Art Midsummer Prize, City of London
Died in London

Selected exhibitions

"Drawings", Annely Juda Fine Art, London
"Kenneth und Mary Martin" Josef Albers Museum, Bottrop, Germany
"Forty Years of Modern Art" Tate Gallery, London
"Kenneth Martin: Late Paintings" Serpentine Gallery, London
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London