Truths Behind the Precipice of Wildly Successful: Sculptor Chas Martin

Over the course of several hours of telephone conversation, I recommend Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities to Chas Martin. He in turn suggests The Garden of Evening Mists and The Gift of Rain both by Tan Twan Eng. I order them from the local library and can’t seem to begin to absorb the beautifully-rich esoteric material.

Honestly, I don’t know how Martin has had the time to read lately, never mind the time to integrate the material into his artful sculptures, as the enormity of his current life is comprised of work and yet more work. When we speak in March of 2018, he is finishing the touches on the last of nine sculptured characters he has created and yet he jokes as he quotes Chuck Close. Something along the lines of not getting there too soon, not arriving before one’s time. 

Three months later, I find myself studying Martin’s show schedule to figure out when I might be able to reach him. Exclusivity drives value, and Martin is rapidly becoming necessarily selective. Life has been a series of surprising turn of events for this Catholic-raised artist who never before considered sculptural art or spiritual art as much more than small wall hangings in a parish church. As he metaphysically moved into more creative and intellectual practices, he began to follow and find value in Native American spirituality. Martin’s travels through Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado pointed out distinctive work in the field and he returned home with a list of things to try and apply to his own sculpting practice, most notably he jokes, marketing.

Martin’s present dilemma surrounds the periphery of art making at a time when the work, the shows, and the process are all beautifully colliding. The work itself has a distinctive, strong-voiced, even-tempered, clear-headed approach and realization. Rather, the emerging problems are embedded in which competitions to enter, what works to focus on first, scheduling challenges, or dangerous ruminations about the material choices he’s made. “I worry that it’s glorified paper mâché, particularly when it’s adjacent to bronze work,” he shares. So much thought and expression has gone into the pieces, Martin cannot see that his fears about an “amateurish medium” are exactly what make the ideas come to life.

It’s not surprising, really. Creatives often play in the intersections between physics, metaphysics, spirituality, and pure imagination, but Martin lives there. Over the past six months especially, his career has continued to catapult in the Portland, Oregon region and he recognizes a degree of what some might term fame, recognition, and appreciation.  Frankly, it feels like he’s about to burst wide open in the best sense of the term. Yet he looks around and asks, “Who else is here in this intersection, who else is working within the conceptual construct?”

We talk of Burning Man, and Omega Institute, and Area 51. He mentions the medical realm and a growing fascination with blindness and ophthalmology as he increasingly recognizes that all levels of seeing are channels. He’s thinking about niche marketing, and community, and commonality of experience all at the same time. This, amidst the background of an abstract three-dimensional gesture of a being whose wings are hands. It’s an entity he’s constructed that is not Tim Burton, and not scary, but which is the looker, the aware one, the cautious, the imbalance. The sculpture is space, suspended where the suspense pulls you forward. Where space is created without form or function, and where space is inviting you, too. 

Martin knows of space and its light and shadows as he also paints with watercolor. Here, he exemplifies another common trait of exceptionally gifted artists who temporarily cross-over to different media as processing vehicles. His palette finds its way into landscape scenes on a mostly horizontal plane where there is explosion of color and controlled approach. “Landscapes have to be responsive as there is a shorter time in two-dimensional space.”

Martin recalls Singer Sargent’s work as being a source of inspiration for his landscape works. He also credits a cultivated discipline he has found to be very centering. “Before the start of every studio session, I execute what I call the ‘Four-Stroke Man’ which is an abstract character in a letter form of four simple strokes, in the same order, every single day. It is my method of channeling and clearing.”

When he comes home from his regular day job, it’s a return to Martin’s own private studio for another three to four hours of work. That day job is a physically-demanding and mentally-challenging position within the Portland, Oregon based Martin Eichinger Sculpture Studio with its inspirational levels and demands for excellence, particularly within science exhibits and instructional or institutional works.

Martin describes Eichinger’s work as spectacular, intellectual, and full of heart, yet not translatable to Martin’s own stylistic approach. “I have to face the fact that I have short, contiguous slots of time and within that is a balance of thinking versus doing. At the same time, I want more pieces in process and not to have to feel in a such a hurry to finish any one.”

Portland has been good for Martin, especially in his involvement with the Pacific Northwest Sculptors organization. With the Sculptors group, there is a collegial exchange of friendship and information. It was at a meeting when he first met Eichinger and where a natural symbiosis followed. Martin illustrates the after-hours Portland sculpture crowd as being impacted by technology within traditional sculptural techniques. “Everything is more accelerated now which enables artists to work on more manageable and challenging scales – scales where printers are bigger than cars.”

Martin originally comes from an art background. Following a Pratt Institute education, he turned to art directing and advertising. After a sizable career, he suddenly felt nothing interesting was going in, and nothing interesting was coming out. “I was constantly questioning everything.” The corporate art directing and creative direction meant guiding other people through perceived problems and alternative solutions, something Martin still does through his accelerated, advanced workshop teachings. He’s interested in how a person thinks, which he often finds simultaneously refreshing and frustrating. “You have to be able to solve problems. ‘What if?’ should be your favorite question.”

That practice of exploring hasn’t ended at all, with current inspirations centering around the dream space, the waking world, the cyclical natural world, art books and museums. His thoughts on gravity, which are more than stylistic influences, presently have everything to do with tethering. There is a new concentration on the freedom of flight of thought, flight of style, and alternate consciousness extensions, more meaningful with ideas about the body in physical form being a hollow sort of ghostness.

I ask Martin what would be next if he had a magic wand? He points to William Park, a billboard painter hugely successful as a fine artist. “I think if I take anything from Park’s work, it’s not to direct my own path, but to explore multiple themes. To break away from a fixed position and to follow a conduit of energy is its own reward.” This is something Martin explores in a habitual sketching and journaling practice (often in the mornings or concurrently while reading) where he allows himself to wonder what’s going to happen today. So much of life can’t be known without bringing to it a mutability.

As artists begin to reach the tipping point of their own rise through a rapidly amorphous art world, I always ask them to share five things that could revolutionize life as they know it today. Followed by a pause, Martin answers: 1) I wish I had more time; that I were 30 years younger; 2) I wish the audience for my work was more identified; 3) A patron benefactor with fluid finances would be great; 4) I’d like to read faster so I could learn and sketch more; and 5) That I could be exposed to more eclectic things that would trigger left and right brain ideas. 

All of this sounds as if Martin would like to be left on his own. He disagrees saying that the discipline of the work helps him to visualize to a higher degree. Although he is an independent person, he finds stimulation through collaboration and now understands that in fact, he doesn’t like to be alone, which he finds isolative. When he is with others, he is marveling at expressions in hands and feet in realistic and romanticized figures. When we’re “with” him, watching him navigate the precipice of success, it is very much the same. 

This article was originally publised on June 19, 2018. Shauna Lee Lange is an art advisor who writes exclusively about sacred art, sacred spaces, sacred places, and creative placemaking as she pursues the meaning of ‘sacred’ in contemporary culture.  Twitter

from Park’s work, it’s not to direct my own path, but to explore multiple themes. To break away from a fixed position and to follow a conduit of energy is its own reward.” This is something Martin explores in a habitual sketching and journaling practice (often in the mornings or concurrently while reading) where he allows himself to wonder what’s going to happen today. So much of life can’t be known without bringing to it a mutability.

As artists begin to reach the tipping point of their own rise through a rapidly amorphous art world, I always ask them to share five things that could revolutionize life as they know it today. Followed by a pause, Martin answers: 1) I wish I had more time; that I were 30 years younger; 2) I wish the audience for my work was more identified; 3) A patron benefactor with fluid finances would be great; 4) I’d like to read faster so I could learn and sketch more; and 5) That I could be exposed to more eclectic things that would trigger left and right brain ideas. 

All of this sounds as if Martin would like to be left on his own. He disagrees saying that the discipline of the work helps him to visualize to a higher degree. Although he is an independent person, he finds stimulation through collaboration and now understands that in fact, he doesn’t like to be alone, which he finds isolative. When he is with others, he is marveling at expressions in hands and feet in realistic and romanticized figures. When we’re “with” him, watching him navigate the precipice of success, it is very much the same. 

This article was originally published on June 19, 2018. Shauna Lee Lange is an art advisor who writes exclusively about sacred art, sacred spaces, sacred places, and creative placemaking as she pursues the meaning of ‘sacred’ in contemporary culture.  Twitter @shaunaleelange.