Bobby C. Martin artist | educator | facilitator
PO Box 266
Siloam Springs AR 72761
As an artist, sometimes you find your subjects, and sometimes your subjects find you. Twenty years ago, I never dreamed that using a few old family photographs as subjects would lead to a career-long fascination with these frozen images of the past, images that even today I have yet to grow tired of exploring. But while the imagery has been the consistent starting point of inspiration, the approach to creating artwork out of that imagery has ranged far and wide over the past two decades. These snapshots of my ancestors have been my constant companions through countless re-imaginings as monumental paintings or tiny etchings, as drawings or installations and video projects. As my work has progressed, though, another consistent theme has taken hold, one that involves both concept and process—the use of layers. Each additional glaze of oil paint, each application of encaustic wax, is an act that builds up layer by layer to create both a physical and metaphorical representation of the effect of time and memory.
Old family photographs passed down from my fullblood Muscogee (Creek) grandmother, my mother, and my aunts and cousins provide a nearly endless supply of resources for my artwork. At almost every family get-together, a cousin shows up with a new batch of photos that they found in a shoebox in a closet, or in the tattered black pages of an old leather-bound photo album. These images of close kinfolk and distant relatives have become icons for me, symbols of a Native American identity that is not seen as “traditional,” but is just as valid and vital to me—a tradition of Indian Christianity and mission schools that has been a part of my family history for generations. The images provide a connection with my past, a way to remember and honor the generations that have come before—a way to commemorate our unique family heritage.
While the photographs have very personal meanings for me as the artist, I have also come to realize that there is an almost universal recognition of a sense of history and identity among the viewers of my work, evoking memories of their own family’s past. Countless times as I discuss my work with a collector or even the most casual observer, I have found myself listening to a passionate retelling of a family story that they were reminded of, or a favorite grandma that looks just like the person in my painting. This common ground of family memory has been a wonderfully satisfying by-product of the choice of subject matter that I never expected when I began using these images.
The building up of something by hand—of seeing the work gradually turn into more than an accumulation of layers of paint or wax—is the satisfying reward of art creation. Just like the dated yet timeless images of my ancestors in the photos, the process itself creates, for me, a sense of the passage of time. In some unexplainable way, I am brought closer to these people that are a part of my heritage and identity. These images are my lifeline to a past and a history that I didn’t discover until well into adulthood, things we rarely spoke about, but that I now realize are a source of inspiration and pride for our family. And while it may be possible for the viewer to peel back or peer around the layers to reveal multiple shades of meaning, it’s just as possible to look at these works and be reminded of their favorite aunt or Granny’s old Ford truck. When they see my work, I hope viewers are reminded of the enduring importance of family and identity. My hope is for my art to become like an old family photographs themselves—perhaps cherished, perhaps stuffed in a box in the attic—but always able to evoke memories every time it is viewed.
Bobby C. Martin
7 Springs Studio, West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma
Bobby C. Martin is a printmaker/painter/educator/curator who works out of his 7 Springs Studio near West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma. Martin’s artwork is exhibited and collected internationally. He has been featured in numerous group and solo exhibitions, the most recent being a one-person exhibition entitled Back in the Day, in the East Gallery of the Oklahoma State Capitol in 2011. In 2013, he curated Indian Ink, an exhibition of historic and contemporary Native printmakers from the Dr. J.W. Wiggins Collection of Native American Art in Little Rock, Arkansas. His most recent curatorial project is a national touring exhibition, Return from Exile: Contemporary Southeastern Indian Art, which is on display at various venues throughout the United States through 2018.
Martin’s work is in numerous museum collections, including the Philbrook Museum and Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, and the Sam Noble Museum in Norman, Oklahoma.
An enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) tribe, he currently holds a Professor of Visual Arts position at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, where he teaches printmaking, screenprinting, and art foundation courses. He frequently leads workshops and artist retreats at 7 Springs Studio, and art study trips internationally.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6
All content and images © Bobby C. Martin. All rights reserved.