Tom Martinelli is an American artist, born in Queens NY who now lives and works in Galisteo, New Mexico. Tom’s paintings have been widely exhibited. Most recently he had a solo exhibition in the David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico which we wrote about here. If you want to see more of Tom’s work (the series below was completed in the 1990s so there is a lot of newer work to be seen) then please visit his website.
Did you study art? If so, where?
School of Visual Arts as an undergrad and Hunter College for grad school… both in New York City. Much of my early learning came from studio assistantships with New York painters Sanford Wurmfeld and Gary Stephan.
Why do you like Op Art?
I appreciate optically based art as there can be a synesthesia – a heightened physical sense of one’s body in space. At moments even the auditory can be evoked.
I’ve always been a fan of op art but as odd as it may seem, I never set out to make optical paintings. At the time I made these (mid to late ‘90’s) my idea was to make field paintings using modular units (the circles – based on the half tone dot)… creating a sense of expanse which when viewed from a distance could be perceived as a field.
How do you make your art? Do you use a computer in the process?
No computer – I use… stencils, acrylic paint and gel medium.
What’s the process for making one of your artworks?
For this body of work I used stencils to apply the paint. I attached grid paper onto rolled sheets of plastic to guide the process of punching circular holes. I use industrial hole punches and a mallet. Each stencil was the full size of the painting panel. Depending on the size of the hole and density of the pattern, this could be the most labor-intensive part of the work.
Paint application was rather swift. The canvas was treated as a single surface – basically like silk-screening. Much of the time I worked horizontally. Acrylic paint (with a lot of gel medium) was applied to the canvas through the stencil using hardware store plastering knives. At a certain point in the drying process the layers would be washed down with a wet brush to allow color from underlying layers to be selectively revealed.
A number of paint layers were applied. Each layer dried before the next was added. The color was almost always transparent and usually primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and secondary colors (orange, green, violet). The appearance of black or near-black was the result of the stacking or overlapping several layers of transparent color. The stencil process also gave each dot a thickened, raised surface and a dense material quality. A blurring of the circular boundaries was created by the slight shifting of the registration of the stencil, which yielded a color “halo” around the dots. The pattern of dots might suggest rigidity or perfect regularity but the color and dot placement was not entirely uniform. The paintings incorporate subtle, sometimes not so subtle, activity outside of the grid. In both painting and stencil making there was a place for irregularity, accident, and intuitive process responsive choices.
Any other art you like and other artists that inspire or have inspired you.
At the time I was interested in Morris Louis (especially the “veils”), Barnet Newman, Jasper Johns (in particular his “crosshatch paintings”), Larry Poons – but also common newsprint and industrial offset printing gone astray – early pop too, Rauchenberg’s work with silkscreen. I’ve always been a big Agnes Martin fan. My meditation practice is always a part of the creative process in ways not easily defined.
When was this series of works created?
I did these painting when I lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the 1990s. I currently live in the desert in rural New Mexico.
Thanks a lot to Tom for working with us on this.Tom Martinelli by Olly