Glorious Metalpoint Drawings / by Jeannine Cook

I had a wonderful treat today, to which I had been looking forward. After spending the morning doing life drawing, I went to the Telfair Museum (Savannah, GA) to see the current exhibition, Metalpoint Drawings by Dennis Martin.

I have known about Dennis Martin's extraordinary talent for many years, and his work was included in The Luster of Silver, the survey of contemporary silverpoint drawings that I was involved with at the Telfair in 2006. Now his widow, Denise, has donated a magnificent goldpoint drawing to the Telfair's permanent collection and this exhibition is from her collection of her late husband's work. (He died in 2001 at a very young age.)

The drawings ranged from the huge donated piece, "Girl Laying", 42 x 60 inches in size, to the tiny and intimate, studies of portions of the human anatomy that become abstracts, despite their realism. Most combine gold and palladium (and often deep, intense graphite for backgrounds), but some are goldpoints or, most unusually, palladiumpoint. (Since the generic term, metalpoint, describes the method of drawing/mark-making with a metal stylus, the use of the terms, silverpoint, goldpoint, copperpoint or palladiumpoint, for instance, simply describes the metal used to draw.)

Dennis Martin is, above all, an artist fascinated with the play of light, the gentle, subtle luminosity of skin, white fabrics, silky hair... He used the delicate luster of metals to depict his beautiful wife, Denise, time and time again - with intense love and lyricism. Gold and palladium never become as dark and stark as the graphite he uses, so the intensely dark backgrounds on these jaggedly deckled sheets of paper enhance the glow and ethereal tones of the metal marks made, often in feather-like touches. The large drawings, with thousands of softly cross-hatched marks, obviously took hundreds of hours to complete. Yet they retain a freshness and immediacy that are the hallmark of a superlative artist.

In Martin's case, the realism of his drawings somehow becomes entirely secondary to the play of light and form across the smooth paper surfaces. He also worked in graphite as a main medium, but his fame was derived from his metalpoint drawings. When one takes into account that at the time he was using this medium, there were many fewer artists working in metalpoint than there are now, his perfection in it is even more astonishing. It has the power to draw one in close, to gaze and marvel at each mark he made.

The exhibit is just one room at the Telfair, not well lit because of the old building's historical exigencies. Nonetheless, it is really a special show, with a lyrical quietness that enchants and uplifts. If you are in Savannah before January 30th, 2011, you owe it to yourself to see these drawings. Dennis Martin is a remarkable artist.