Peter Michael Martin ‘Close to Home’

Local Mattapoisett artist Peter Michael Martin has been exploring and expressing his artistic capabilities for a long time. Yet he never ceases to bring forth fresh perspectives on well-known themes or new themes heretofore never seen. He finds inspiration everywhere with one idea followed by another and then another until a fully explored concept is developed.

            Take the Moby Dick project as an example. Titled “Moby Dick Inspired Visions,” we were awestruck when we attended the exhibit of black, Tyvek cuttings a few years ago. The images are striking, to say the least, in black and white, giving the finished pieces a woodblock print quality but on a truly grand scale.

            Using the story of Moby Dick as his inspiration, Martin delivers visual expression to passages, people and themes found in the much-loved pages of Melville’s piece de resistance. The cohesion of this exhibit comes from Melville’s story, but there is at least one family connection. On a sail measuring 22 feet in length and suspended from the ceiling of the Cape Cod Art Museum is inscribed the death notice of a family member, an uncle lost at sea while whaling in a ship named The Herald. This connection between Melville’s fictional tale and Martin’s real-life ancestor demonstrates that art does mimic life.

            On a much smaller scale but packing just as big a visual punch is the exhibit now on view at the Mattapoisett Library (through October 14) titled “Close to Home.” Here we find Martin continuing his exploration in cutting; this time, however, it’s wood blocks. He uses a process called white-line woodblock printing also known as Provincetown Printmaking that came on the art scene in 1914. A spin on the Japanese process of woodblock printing where a new block is needed for each color, American artists, most notably B.J.O. Nordfelt, wanted to simplify the process. This innovative group of printmakers were able to create prints from one block for all colors.

            Martin explained the white-line process and where he drew his inspiration for this latest exhibit on September 16 during a brief presentation at the library. The artist spoke to the cutting process and the use of color to achieve a spectacular finished piece. On exhibit along with printed works are some of the actual blocks he used for this series.

            Martin shared that during the early days of the pandemic. He studied the images around his home, such as neighbors passing by, walking their dogs or chickens that he once raised.

            Expanding on the notion of home, Martin said that he visited Poland to learn more about his mother’s family. There he was drawn to purchasing old books filled with visual food for his artistic soul. One book contained photographs of traditional clothing with richly embroidered surfaces in jewel tones. Using that color palette, Martin created white-line prints of abstract orbs that connect and then seem to drift apart in what can be described as stained-glass-like images. Small in scope, yet sensual and evocative.

            In a follow-up, Martin said he continues to add pieces to the Moby Dick group and has had his work published in an international catalog for woodblock printing.

            After a long career as an educator, Martin retired. At Old Rochester Regional High School, he cotaught art as an alternate form of assessment. Since retiring, Martin has been pursuing visual arts. For an artist who once found pleasure in paper cutting in the German style known as scherenschnitte (translated meaning – scissor cuts), the word exacting comes to mind, precision comes to mind, perfection comes to mind. Martin’s works are all that and so much more.

By Marilou Newell

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