Kenneth Martin British, 1905-1984

Kenneth Martin was born in Sheffield in 1905 and attended the city’s School of Art from 1921-23 and went on to work as a graphic designer.  In 1929 He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London where he met and married Mary Balmford.  During the1930’s he painted portraits and landscapes in a naturalistic style and was associated with the Euston Road School along with Victor Pasmore; by the early 40’s his work began to increasingly focus on elements of structure and design and by 1948/49 his work became purely abstract.  In 1951 Kenneth and Mary Martin published a Broadsheet ‘devoted to abstract art’ which included images of their work and essays defining their new direction.


Though there was a tendency towards abstraction in British post-war art, this often came from a representational basis, Martin however, soon rejected this naturalistic starting point and moved to a purer abstraction, constructed of lines and geometric shapes exploring spatial relationships between intersecting and overlapping elements. This ‘purer’ abstract art was constructed according to scientific or mathematical models and both Kenneth and Mary Martin turned to making works – reliefs, moving sculptures, motorised kinetic works and mobiles – with simple structural elements which they called “Constructionist”; differentiated from, but heavily influenced by, earlier European Constructivisim.  The influence of figures such as Kasimir Malevich and Alexander can be seen in Martin’s works.


Alongside sculptural works exploring balance, movement , tension and gravity, in his Chance and Order series from 1971, Martin set up grids on paper and numbered the points of intersection,  corresponding numbers were drawn out of a hat in pairs, which he then translated into lines of the grid.  The resulting paintings, drawings and prints are both abstract works yet highly concrete, visual documents of his theoretical and artistic processes.


Kenneth Martin died in 1984 at the age of 79, his work has been exhbitied widely in solo and joint shows with Mary Martin in the UK, Europe and Worldwide.  Works are held in major public collections and museums including the Tate Gallery, V & A, British Council, & Scottish National Gallery of Art in the UK and internationally including Museum Folkwang, Essen, Josef Albers Museum, Bottrop, Germany McMaster, Ontario, Canada, MOMA New York, USA, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Japan.