Blair Martin: Painting Stories

Blair Martin likes to tell stories. There’s the one, for example, about how she and her husband came to live in Tryon. “It was somewhat impulsive,” Blair said on the telephone the other day, speaking from her studio in Key West. “We knew we didn’t want to stay here all year, so we got out a map.” Their search took them as far afield as Quebec until, on a visit to Blair’s mother-in-law in Hendersonville, they rode down the mountain to Tryon and saw a stone house for sale. “My husband Bill said it was the kind of house his mother would have grown up in, so we started investigating, and it turned out it actually was the house his mother grew up in. That’s how we ended up in Tryon.”

Blair likes to tell stories on canvas, too. Her last exhibit was a group of autobiographical paintings collectively called “Heads & Tales From The Family Tree”, based on stories and memories of her family, right down to a dog once owned by her husband. The series began to take shape after moving away from her native Richmond, Virginia to Key West and the fateful visit to Tryon. “In search of some cohesion and companionship, I turned my thoughts to family,” Blair wrote in the exhibition’s catalog. “It was a pretty scary mental journey, as is evident in the resulting paintings.”

The startlingly colored series of acrylic-based narrative art is, it must be said, just as startling in its imagery, as if Salvatore Dali, David Hockney and Lucien Freud decided to collaborate. In Blair’s paintings, people sprout fishtails or have their heads protruding from a tortoise’s body; children have eerie goblin stares or look downright dangerous; animals gaze knowingly at the viewer. Each painting is accompanied by the story that prompted it, about people from Blair’s family tree with names like Oggie and Mudge, Mopsy and Orphan Nutter, some of them going back several generations. Most of the surviving family members depicted thought it was all a hoot, except Blair’s brother, who took exception to the pounds Blair added to his painted self. “It kind of caught him off guard,” Blair admitted. “If there’s a bloodline blacklist, I might be on it now.”

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