A colleague of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, Knox Martin was an esteemed New York School painter. Embracing pattern, geometric structure, and organic and figurative references, his painting engages with major Post-war trends, including Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, and Pop Art, without adhering to any singular artistic movement. His large-scale paintings of the 1960s employ a collage aesthetic, combining geometric forms with fields of stripes and polka dots in a bold palette of black and white, vibrant green, red, blue, and yellow. Beginning in the 1970s, the female nude, a favorite subject of de Kooning’s, became a key theme in Martin’s painting, where it is playfully fragmented and rearranged. The female form becomes a vehicle for abstraction and a reference to art historical lineages and the creative process of art making. Martin’s series of women paintings culminated in two major public commissions, Venus (1970), a twelve story mural at 19th Street and the West Side Highway, and Woman with Bicycle (1979) at West Houston and MacDougal Street (covered 2002).
Born in Barranquilla, Colombia, in 1923, Martin moved to New York City in 1927. After serving in World War II, he attended the Art Students League of New York on the G.I. Bill from 1946-1950, where he studied with Harry Sternberg, Vaclav Vytlacil, Will Barnet, and Morris Kantor. Among his fellow students at the League were Robert Rauschenberg, Al Held, and Cy Twombly. In 1954, at Franz Kline’s recommendation, Martin’s work was included in the prestigious Stable Gallery annual exhibition. That same year, his career was launched by his first solo exhibition at Charles Egan Gallery. Since then, Martin has exhibited widely both in the US and abroad, including in France, England, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, and Germany.
Martin’s work has also been included in significant group presentations, such as Some Paintings to Consider (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California, 1964); Concrete Expressionism (New York University, New York, 1965); Large Scale American Paintings (Jewish Museum, New York, 1967); the Whitney Annual (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1967 and 1972); Synthetic Realism (Gremillion & Co. Fine Art Inc., Houston, 1986); Knox Martin: A Painting Exhibition Spanning a Number of Years (Lighthouse Museum, Tequesta, Florida, 1999); Pan American Modernism: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America and the United States (Lowe Art Museum, Miami, 2013); The Masters: Art Student League Teachers and their Students (The Art Students League of New York, 2018); and most recently Knox Martin: Living Legend (Arlington Museum of Art, Arlington, TX, 2020). Martin’s work is held in over 40 museums and private collections worldwide. He was the recipient of prestigious grants and awards, including most recently the Benjamin West Clinedinst Memorial Award and the French Legion of Honor. Martin also had a distinguished career in teaching art, including his years at Yale Graduate School of the Arts, New York University, University of Minnesota, and The Art Students League of New York. Knox Martin passed away in May 2022.