Graduating artist unveils thought-provoking gallery

Man Overboard: The first piece featured in Martin's exhibit was made entirely of recycled materials, mainly plastic bags and bottles.

Anna Ciummo

Soon to graduate this spring, Washburn art student James Martin had been presenting a senior gallery in the art building Jan. 13–27. A reception was held Jan. 22.

Martin will graduate soon with a bachelor of fine arts with an emphasis in sculpture and ceramics.

Martin’s featured collection, “coup.de.grace.,” is roughly translated by the artist as “a finishing blow” or “the ending act of something gradually getting worse.”

All of Martin’s art was created in the year 2015 and features unique pieces of mostly mixed media works, showing great emphasis in pieces made out of recyclable products such as plastic bags, bottles, shards of glass and clay and even leftover nail polish. Many of the pieces are ceiling-high, suspended from wires along the wall, and often implement elements of video and photography.

At the exhibition, the presentation began with Martin’s undoubtedly largest piece, titled “Man Overboard.” Comprised of only materials that would otherwise have been unwanted and wasted, such as plastic bags, water bottles and milk cartons, “Man Overboard” introduces the viewer to the other pieces presented, which continuously grow in uniqueness of materials.

“With this show and over the last year, I’ve focused on the human impact on the environment,” Martin said. “It is environmentally-related work, but it’s not just about that; it’s also about the human condition that leads to the environmental condition.”

Martin said that he is particularly interested in combining art with ecology, as well as sociology.

Barbara Waterman-Peters, a writer and artist that attended Martin’s exhibition and reception, was enthralled with the presentation. She has worked as a professor at both Washburn and Kansas State and is also a member of the Topeka Collective Art Gallery. She described the gallery as “inviting” and “tactile.”

“It is one of the most thought-provoking, interesting and engaging exhibits I’ve ever seen,” Waterman-Peters said about Martin’s work. “[Martin] has distilled his point into what is not only compelling, but also aesthetically pleasing. I found myself looking forward to each different piece.”

“Each work pushes a different button,” Waterman-Peters said. “The artist is able to make his point clear, but he doesn’t confine himself to a single means of expression.”

Overall, Waterman-Peters was heavily impressed.

“[Martin] and the art faculty are to be congratulated,” she said.

Although Martin hopes to build a career from his work and specific study of sculpture, he advises new potential art students not to study it for the money.

“Do it because you love to do it,” Martin said. “Be open to new possibilities.”

He is working on applying to graduate schools, but he is also considering opening a studio in Colorado, where he is originally from.

“When I came [to Washburn] I didn’t know I was going to do anything like this,” Martin said about his exhibit.

Certain sections of Martin’s artist’s statement explained his purpose for his art creations:

“We have changed the natural order of things by prolonging and creating life within our own species that would otherwise have ceased to exist. This progression combined with capitalism has resulted in a planet that has become overpopulated and ravaged of its natural resources.

“My work focuses on humanity’s superiority complex and the potential consequences of our actions as nature begins to retaliate. I am interested in our symbiotic relationship with our natural surroundings and how this varies from region to region.

“Collecting materials and conducting research on the subjects, as well as the processes required to create my work, has made me very self-aware of my own role in the ecosystem. This is what I seek to do with my projects: create awareness and spark relevant social commentary.”