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June 2015 - The Easton Irregular
by Luke Wynne
Images Courtesy of Marta Whistler
Marta Whistler's life is an artistic life well lived. Born in the Netherlands, Marta has lived and/or studied in places as diverse as her artwork; Canada, New Orleans, the American Southwest, Latin America, Mexico, Dallas, Texas and Easton, Pennsylvania - twice. More than a decade ago Marta and her husband - professor and acclaimed Shakespearean actor, Dudley Knight - moved to Easton. They came for the close proximity to New York City and stayed because of the camaraderie of the downtown art scene. Marta opened an atelier on Northampton Street to showcase her artwork. She and Dudley renovated a downtown brownstone and built an artistic life in Easton.
Dudley Knight died - while preparing to play King Lear - in June 2013. Marta felt that she could not remain in the home they had made together, and she moved to Dallas, Texas to be close to her daughter. However, after only a year in Texas, the pull of Easton was too strong. Friends and artists prevailed on her to return. Her trademark beret can be seen once again during her daily two mile walks on the streets of Easton.
Marta has purchased another brownstone in Easton. It is - like Marta - spotlessly clean, organized and eclectically furnished with a mix of European panache and artistic cheekiness. Her third floor studio is light and airy and always in use. When asked about a typical day, Marta relates that she rises at 5:00 am. She proceeds with a few chores and begins work in the studio for about four hours. After a short break, Marta returns to work and will continue this routine as she often puts in 10, 12 or even 14 hours in the studio.
Classifications and labels are obstacles, which Marta avoids. This characteristic is so profound that she refuses to title her paintings. She prefers people to bring their own titles and meaning to her work.
Marta's wide-ranging imagery can be broadly broken down into three categories; Figurative, Abstract and Symbolic. The common bonds in all of her artwork are the bold and sure use of color, the strength and integrity of line and the forthright manner in which the pieces present themselves. Marta is too self-involved with the work to be coy. She uses the canvas not as a shield but as an offensive weapon, which she employs to thrust ideas and images at you. She is not concerned with making "pretty" paintings, although many of her pieces are undeniably seductive and beautiful.
Since the paintings are not named, a description is necessary. There is one painting set in a red room. Two nude couples stare out of the canvas directly at the viewer. They are seated around a table set with four white shot glasses. A line of blue ceramics sits on top of the cabinet in the background, and a black and white cat arches his back among the pottery. The black lines which outline the figures recall the German Expressionist, Max Beckman, who used a similar technique to set his figures apart from the background in such paintings as "The Carnival". But while Beckman's chaotic scene captures frenzy and motion, Marta freezes time while the piercing eyes of the four nudes seem to be studying the viewer.
With other pieces of Marta's figurative work, one wants to make comparisons to other artists, other styles. Matisse and Fauvism come to mind. "Portrait of Madame Matisse" certainly has qualities that can be observed in Marta's portrait of a woman with a large orange vase set against a deep purple color field background. Matisse may have been the "wild beast", with his violent use of his brush strokes. Marta is more subtle and controlled, but with the intensity of the pose and the aggressive use of color, Madame Matisse and the unknown sitter of Marta's canvas have more in common then what sets them apart.
Marta's abstract paintings are perhaps the most beguiling. The solid color-field work topped with the geometric patterned pops of color hold their own. But it is the feathery and fluid abstracts which hold the viewer. These "action" paintings have a languorous and liquid quality. They are not as confrontational as much as meditative. These paintings clearly show an artist in full control of her medium.
Marta spent time living near and with Native American Indians. She also traveled through Mexico and Latin America. It was during these times that Marta's interest in Symbolism intensified. These paintings, which Marta groups under a heading of Symbolic Art, are perhaps the most difficult to decipher. This is understandable. After all, hieroglyphics are indecipherable without some sort of road map. A floating fish or an eight-pointed star may represent one thing in Catholicism and something quite different in Hinduism. These paintings also seem to be the most personal of Marta's oeuvre. They mix elements of the figurative and the abstract, and in doing so offer a singular voice.
When asked about inspiration, Marta replied, "I'm inspired twenty-four hours a day... I never have to wait for inspiration. You can wake me up in the middle of the night, give me a piece of paper and a pencil and I start working... because the mind is continuously creating..."
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