Artist Profile: Steve Martin
THOM BENNETT PHOTOGRAPHs
Steve Martin’s love of art began as a child. “My parents would take me to church, and to get me to be still, they would give me the offering envelopes and pencils, and I would draw horrific battle scenes,” recalls the prolific artist and gallery owner, originally from Tioga, a small town in Rapides Parish. Years later, as a father watching his children’s blossoming interest in art, he turned his passion into a full-time career after spending many years as a stockbroker and financial adviser.
In 1993, Martin’s eldest son, Christian, drew a clown with his father’s old art supplies, prompting his father to make something, too. Inspired by the simple line of the drawing, Martin fashioned the first of his now-very-recognizable figural wire sculptures. With immediate interest from a local art collector and from former gallery owner Marguerite Oestreicher, he produced 40 more and sold them all through Oestreicher’s gallery in a single night. “After Hurricane Katrina, I started assessing my life,” he says. “I realized I really wanted to do the art. [The financial career] was all about money.”
Martin is also known for his drawings, paintings, monotypes, collages and block-cut prints. The common thread running through the various media is his use of elemental, unbroken lines. “Line is the most abstract thing there is,” says Martin, whose work can be viewed in his Julia Street gallery, Steve Martin Fine Art, and in corporate, private and museum collections.
His wire sculptures have been compared to the whimsical circus figures of 20th-century artist Alexander Calder. But the self-taught Martin’s use of wire is the result of three generations of his family – his father, who used the malleable material for his work as a contractor, his sons (the eldest provided the starting point for his figural forms, while the youngest, Aidan, was the impetus for his wire faces) and Martin himself. The artists who influenced him most were Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
His collection of paintings, “Faces In A Crowd” was inspired by visages he observed on Mardi Gras floats and the powerful reactions they evoke. As he explored the theme and researched African masks, he began rendering faces in a similarly stylized, abstract manner.
Besides conceptualizing, producing and exhibiting his work, he is founder and publisher of Art + Design, a magazine devoted to art in New Orleans and co-host of “Made In New Orleans,” a weekly show on WLAE that profiles local artists. He also has served in multiple arts organizations, including Miami’s Art Basel Planning Commission. “I’m wanting to be more focused on my work, but I also want to help people with the magazine and the show to give them a voice.”