Put Your Demon in a Cage

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There is an ancient Jewish saying that we all have both an angel and a demon inside us; the task is to beat down the demon. It sure is nice to have a little help from Olive, Nancy, Betty, and Lulu, even with their “working class” stubble.
This picture will be offered for silent auction at the WMSE Art & Music fundraiser event May 19, 2017. Get your tickets and help keep WMSE Frontier Radio alive and well.

Gallery Update


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I will be exhibiting a solo show at the beautiful Grove Gallery. The opening reception is during Milwaukee’s Fall Gallery Night, Friday Oct. 20, 5-9 PM, There will be cold beer and live music from the blues/folk duet Graveyard Shift (my son is in the band). There will be a gallery talk at 2 PM the following Saturday Oct. 21. where you can get to know me a little better.

The show is entitled, “Out From the Darkness” and that refers to letting go of the influence and pressures of academic training and practice and just trying to channel the teenaged kid back in the 1970’s who loved drawing for endless hours and listening to the best music ever made on the 8-track. There is also a certain “Darkness” in the drawings of demons, comics, snakes, skeletons, monsters, bad boys, and cool cars. The exhibition is primarily black ink drawings, acrylic paintings, and screen prints all of which can be viewed on this website. The screen prints (pictured above) will be for sale $80 and under.

We have also published the “Sketchbook of Gregory Martens” which is a compilation facsimile of my sketchbooks, also very reasonably priced at $20. Published by the great Brett Waterhouse at Waterhouse Press, the sketchbook has become my life’s blood for ideas, practicing my drawing chops, copying old masters, and recording bits of wisdom picked up over the last year or so. It is a personal glimpse I believe you will find fascinating. I’ll be honored to sign books on both Friday and Saturday.

There has been some wonderful publicity for the exhibition. Kat Kneevers wrote a great review in the Shepherd-Express. She also promoted the article and exhibition on Radio 88.9 FM. Jim Higgins wrote another great preview for Gallery Night listing our show as a top pick in the Sunday Milwaukee Journal. And finally, I had a really fun interview with Tom Crawford on Radio WMSE 91.7.

Get an early sneak preview of the the show during Doors Open Milwaukee Sept. 23-24 Noon – 5 PM, at The Grove Gallery, again live music provided by Graveyard Shift. Stop by and get a behind-the-scenes look at the fantastic Lamers Building which houses The Grove Gallery, Team Nerd Press letterpress printing operated by Adam Beadel, and the amazing studio of Celine Farrell who also owns the building.

832 S. 5th ST. Walkers PT.
Milwaukee WI 53204
Opening Reception: Oct. 20, 5:00 – 9:00 PM. Cold beer, Live Music
Artist Talk Oct. 21, 2:00 PM

I will be available for private tours, interviews, etc. by appointment: gmartens@mindspring.com

Lucky 13

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When the Lumberman Demon has blocked your way, you must wait it out. Or perhaps you are already in Hell with a fantastic race car but you can’t get out of the parking lot, as the dead get new cell phones that probably don’t work. Do you feel lucky?

Mouse Fight

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These cartoon mice were rowdy in their day, Mighty Mouse would sing, “Here I come to save the day!” Such confidence. When Ignatz Mouse wasn’t plotting a dark scheme, or averting the policeman Offisa Pup, he was throwing a brick at his beloved/hated androgynous Krazy Kat. And Mickey Mouse had a bit of a cruel streak when it came to the lower animals and the cops. I wanted to see them fight; for Minnie and Krazy in the ’59 Caddy, and the internet gawkers – in front of an architectural ruin. Wouldn’t you?

Little Leo

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Old Leonardo Da Vinci had a rough day He was just trying to practice driving his little car around the yard when he was blocked by a young Generation Z girl. She had just beat the 3 Card Monte dealer and wanted to post it online. Unfortunately the angry neighbor guy had just finished shooting fish in a barrel and turned his sights on the dealer. As the the neighborhood saying goes, “If the angry neighbor doesn’t get you the firebombs will.”



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If I had to pick just one artist of all time whose work has influenced me the most it would be Albrecht Durer. From the great woodcut “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” I first saw at a headshop on Brady Street in Milwaukee in 1973, to the “Passion Series” to “Melencholia I”. His magnificent Renaissance “Northern Line” forever changed printmaking, draughtsmanship, and ultimately painting in Northern Europe. Durer’s hatching and crosshatching remain the best in all art. Despite the beautiful work of Callot, Hogarth, and Crumb, we will never equal Durer’s accurate simplicity, and his ingenious shaping of the human form, nature, perspective, and architecture into a seamless composition. To claim such a master is a profound lesson in humility, my place at his feet will always be as a student.

The Place of the Doodle

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Typical artists have a strange and sometimes tense relationship with “Primitive, Visionary, or Folk” artists. God Forbid your gallery represents both Folk and Fine artists, there really is no way to compete for exhibition space and limited sales. Untrained, uneducated, and unspoiled, the Folk artist has an automatic purity as a creator, an elemental virginity, an uncorrupted simpleness that trained artists can never have. A BFA or MFA usually disqualifies the owner from ever finding that blessed state of untarnishment.

But, how close can I get? When does it happen? Must I set up a Surrealistic Automatism experiment with Breton breathing down my neck? The closest I can come to this rarefied air is the doodle. Milwaukee gallerist Debra Brehmer defines the pastime,

“A doodle is a drawing that lacks intent. It is a random sketch, sometimes done to fill time and space. You draw. You don’t bring intentionality to the act, you just draw.  The doodle is a trans-historical remnant connected to the Surrealist practice of automatic drawing, an exercise intended to shut-up and shut down the ego.

I can feel my ego bristle at the very thought of being shut down; my ego wants to show off, intellectually connect, challenge, inform and delight – and take full credit for all positive results. Perhaps the real difference between fine and folk artists is the nurtured ego that comes with an education. Doodling, for me at least, starts to diminish the ego in a very healthy way.

The Pessimillennialists

The Pessimillenials, 2017, ink on found book page, 9 x 6″

“Pessimillennialism” is a real derogatory term found among Evangelical Christians, specifically within the dialog concerning post-millennialism, and pre-millennialism. These terms refer to the return of Christ as pre or post the 1000 years of peace known as the Millennium. Pre-millennialists believe things will worsen right up to the Great Tribulation. Post-millennialists believe the Church must establish a Theocratic Dominion over the Earth where the whole world is ruled by Christians for 1000 years preceding Christ’s return. Thus, the Post-millennialists refer to the Pre-millennialists as “Pessimellinnialists” because things get worse not better.

I use this term here and the obvious similarity to “Millennials” in a scene that includes some of my favorite iconography: entangled skull-headed snakes offering chicken and bones, dead fish, a cool car, bomber planes, and a Voodoo doll. If I had a coat of arms this would be it.

It is the generation of Millennials I have the most hope invested in for the safeguarding of the arts and humanities. The Baby Boomers will all be dead in twenty years, Generation X will just slink away quietly, uncommitted like they have always been. The youngest group, Generation Z (5-20 year olds) will try and rebuild whatever is left, we need to ensure they have at least a few decent building blocks.

The Black Pig

The Black Pig, 2017, ink on found book page, 9 X 6″

Hildegard von Bingen was a Renaissance Woman long before the Renaissance. One of her many literary contributions to the great canon of religious texts is her Vision of 1141. She describes many portents and warnings but my favorite is The Black Pig  – a ruler who bring sadness and filth to his subjects and lands. There have been many in the past and will no doubt be many more in the future, but the Black Pigs of today are quite visible.

Race With the Devil

Race With the Devil, 2017, ink on paper, 8 x 10″

Exercising absolute freedom is an artist’s strange and wondrous privilege. What will I make when left to my own unfettered whims? First, making the allowance for whim might mean shaking off the political and historical pressure to conform. It might also mean shaking off the responsibility inherent in having an education and years of professional experience. Second, it means letting that earlier, younger self out of his repressive prison. My younger self seems to be motivated by an aesthetic focused on both the absurd and coolness.

“Race With the Devil” emerged from the racing scenes in the film “American Graffiti”, and the imagery in the song “Last Kiss” by Wednesday. Cool hot rods with supercharged motors, Mickey Rats and mythical beasts set the scene for the Bad Boy Rebel  racing the Devil to the death. Influenced no doubt by the anti-racing propaganda forced on kids in the 1950′s and ’60′s. Danger is seductive.