John R Martin
Abstract Figurative Artist
(1938 – 2014)

Watch video interview with John R Martin on YouTube.

John Richard Martin was born on February 7th, 1938 in Montgomery, Alabama. His family, just a few years later, relocated west to the city of Pasadena, in Southern California. John took an interest in art at an early age, first drawn to a sculpture he saw each week in the church his family attended. After some inquiries at school, he found out it was the ‘Pieta’ by Michelangelo. He admired and was fascinated by this artist’s talent, and knew instinctively that his life would somehow be involved with creating art. He started in his family’s garage, collecting old house paint and brushes. “I spent hours out there, alone, just playing with paint and covering any surface I could lay my hands on... I’d spend a whole Saturday night in my “studio” - a tiny space cleared from the junk of our cluttered garage.” John has recalled. He attended John Muir High School, where he excelled in athletics, lettering in three varsity sports: football, track and gymnastics. However, he still felt undoubtly passionate about art.

He then attended Pasadena City College and majored in art, where he began to build more confidence. John had also just married a fellow art student and started a family, which produced three daughters. He made efforts to get shows in galleries and began to explore the emerging L.A. art scene. He spent much of his time at the seminal Ferus Gallery, befriending its notable artists, the gallery’s curator, Walter Hopps, and artist/actor Dennis Hopper. These experiences were very influential for John, and pushed him further to pursue his career as an artist. For several years, family demands took precedence, and John experienced a hiatus. But time went on, and he was always drawn back to his love of art. He went on to acheive a B.F.A from Otis/Parsons. He had divorced and remarried several years later, producing one more daughter. He received more encouragement, began to get his work in galleries, and went on to acheive an M.F.A. from San Francisco Art Institute. It was there that he was mentored by an artist and teacher, Richard Diebenkorn, a prominent Abstract Expressionist painter, who was responsible for helping to begin the “Bay Area Figurative Movement”. All of this was a major influence on John’s artistic expression. John has written “ I have learned important things by looking at Picasso, Nolde, Kandinsky, Monet, and de Kooning, and from the rare opportunity of talking with Marcel Duchamps and Robert Mother- well, but I think the main reason my work has developed toward greater simplicity and clarity is my deepeneing understanding of interpersonal, and musical impulses and interactions. Attempts to express my understanding often lead to further ones, but each work has a moment when it says “I’m done.”

John also spent several years in the field of art therapy, acheiving great success with developmentally challenged children and adults. He loved seeing what effect art could have on other people, giving them a way to open up and express themselves. Music was also important to John throughout his life. Several of his friends, such a Bobbie Hutcherson and Herbie Lewis, went on to become professional jazz musicians. The sounds of music, especially jazz, echoed through his house, whether he was working or relaxing. A glass of red wine and some great music from one of his favorites like Miles Davis or Marvin Gaye was one of his greatest pleasures.

Throughout his adult life, John’s work has been displayed in many venues: at International Art Festivals, the Bennett Design House in Pasadena, the Museum of Art Downtown LA, and the Spring Street Gallery in Los Angeles, Californa. John’s oeuvre consists of figurative, biomorphic forms, and mid to later works of Abstract Expressionism, which also include color-field painting, geometric abstraction, and aerial landscapes. John, like his mentor Richard Diebenkorn, vacillated between figurative abstraction and abstract expressionism, the later being the main emphasis of his work from the mid-1980’s to present. John discovered that the spontaneous and subconcious nature of abstract expressionism best put forth the story of his euphoric and at other times turbulent life. John’s work is not political, nor does it represent any opinion with regard to social events, but is emotionally driven with a tremendous influence of nature, both in its subject matter and palette. John’s trademark was his beret -- he always wore it, and in it, he embraced life in all its challenges and in all its victories.

During much of his life as an artist, he struggled to find recognition and the right promotion, but with his recent passing and the extraordinary body of work he has left behind, it is important he be given the recognition he deserves as one of the few black artists who led in the creation of the L.A. art scene.


2015 - Abstracts & Figures, Sovak Gallery, Venice, CA
2014 - Memorial Retrospective, The Fremont Gallery, South Pasadena, CA
2013 - Tribe, Lady Between The Lines LA Art Agency, Los Angeles, CA
2012 - 10+1 Artists, LELA International Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
2012 - Artists from the North, Altadena Community Arts Center, Altadena, CA
2011 - The Unusual Suspects, Fremont Gallery, South Pasadena, CA
2008 - Entropy of Art, Kurier Plus Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
2008 - Entropy of Art, DeLamar Mansion, Consulate General of the Republic of Poland, New York, NY
2007 - Solo Exhibit, Salon Xia, Pasadena, CA
2006 - Lantern of the East Art Festival, Los Angeles, CA
2000 - The Homogeneity & Heterogenity, Dae Jon, South Korea
1999 - Love & Other Difficulties, Key Club, West Hollywood, CA
1998 - Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1998 - International Images, White Gallery, Montrose, CA
1998 - The Still, Small Voice of Conscience, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1998 - Icons Within The Mind, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1998 - Love - Hate -And The Absence of Either, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1998 - Contemporary Landscapes, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1997 - Sense and Sensuality, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1997 - Lost Time, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1997 - Kaleidoscope of Color Blue, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1997 - Conceptual Evolution, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1997 - Me, Myself & I, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1997 - Selected Works, The Bennett Design House, Pasadena, CA
1996 - Solo Exhibit, Santorini Restaurant, Pasadena, CA
1996 - Contemporary Treasures, Museum Of Arts Downtown LA, Los Angeles, CA
1996 - Other Realities, Phoenix Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
1996 - About Face, William Grant Still Arts Center, Los Angeles, CA
1996 - Love. Love? Love!, Palette des Artists, Pasadena, CA
1996 - Selected Expressions, Spring Street Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1996 - Human Breath, Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA
1995 - Salon, Palette des Artists, Pasadena, CA
1995 - P.L.A.N., Spring Street Gallery/LA County of Art, Los Angeles, CA
1995 - P.L.A.N., Unity Arts Center/LA County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
1995 - Art By The Yard, Palette des Artists, Pasadena, CA
1995 - Solo Exhibition, Spring Street Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1995 - Images, Palette des Artists, Pasadena, CA
1995 - International Exhibition, ADR Fine Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1995 - Little Picture Show, Tirage Gallery, LaCanada, CA
1994 - Holiday Art Show, Spring Street Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1994 - L.A. Rhythms, Spring Street Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1994 - Les Femme, Lyn Bassett Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1994 - The Block Party, Tirage Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1993 - 1996 - Pacific Design Center, Print Merchants Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1993 - Photographic Exhibition, Orlando Gallery, Sherman Oaks, CA
1993 - Photographic Exhibition, Rubino Gallery, Hollywood, CA
1992 - Art Asking Questions, Venezia Gallery D Arte, Venice, CA
1992 - Art LA 92, 7th Internatinal LA Art Fair, Los Angeles, CA
1992 - Interior Exteriors, Orlando Gallery, Sherman Oaks, CA
1992 - European Echo, BKH Fine Art Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
1992 - Madla Hruza, Emerson Gallery, Studio City, CA
1992 - Photographic Exhibition, X.IBIT, Silver Lake, CA
1992 - Four (More) Years Of...?, Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, Los Angeles, CA
1989 - Solo Exhibit, Five Feet Restaurant, Laguna Beach, CA
1989 - Solo Exhibit, Ocean Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA
1988 - Solo Exhibit, Laguna Beach City Hall, Laguna Beach, CA
1986 - 1988 - John Martin Studio Gallery, Featured Artist Pasadena Weekly, Pasadena, CA
1986 - Purchase Award, South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce
1984 - Solo Exhibit, Ojai Art Center, featured in Ojai Daily News, Ojai, CA
1982 - Images, Gallery Centrums, Oslo, Norway
1981 - Six Artist Show, Coons Gallery at Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA
1980 - Solo Exhibit, Arnum Gallery, Pasadena, CA
1980 - Group Exhibit, Norwegian Stage Designs Society, Oslo, Norway
1975 - Group Exhibit, Norwegian Stage Designs Society, Oslo, Norway
1972 - Two Decades of Black Artists, Los Angels County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
1972 - Black Expo, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
1970 - Two Decades of Black Art, California State University, Los Angeles, CA

John was a featured artist at the ‘10+1 Artists’ show at the LELA International Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles in April 2012. He stands proudly beside a large abstract that was one of his personal favorites.