Martha Braun: Expressions in Color & Form

Published online courtesy of Tucson Home Magazine, Winter 2008-2009

by Mark Mussari

The power of abstract art lies somewhere between what we feel and what we see.  Some love it, some hate it – or maybe just don’t get it.  Still, abstract art demands attention. Its often vivid colors and startling shapes call to something deep within, a primitive force or a deep emotion.

Art critics often credit the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky as the progenitor of the first truly abstract art in the early 20th century.  The urge toward abstraction built up within Kandinsky until it finally exploded on canvas in paintings such as the chromatically charged Landscape with a Tower  (1908) and Landscape near Murnau (1909).  In these innovative artworks Kandinsky began illustrating his own theories about color, form, and spirituality.

Gathering like-minded artists into the highly influential group of painters knows as the Blue Rider, Kandinsky wrote in their publication Almanac: “There comes a predestined hour when the time is ripe for decisions.”  Kandinsky decided he would no longer base his paintings on representation – and with this decision art truly entered the nonobjective sphere.  Art became now what it looks like but what it is.

In their strong and sometimes challenging canvases, the [three local painters] featured here share the same power of abstraction.  Their paintings reveal a mastery of color spaces and abstract forms, and they verify – in the boldest sense – that modern art is alive and kicking in the Old Pueblo.

“I love color,” states Martha Braun, whose large canvases serve as a brilliant testament to her affections.  Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Braun recalls always taking art classes in school.  “My whole family is artistic,” she observes.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a double degree in Interior Design and Art, Braun moved to San Francisco.  There she ran a successful design firm before moving to Santa Fe in the early 2000s.  At this time Braun began turning her attention toward more abstract painting.  “I was experimenting with acrylics,” she explains.  She cites the rich colors of the sunset and mountains in New Mexico as another influence on her chromatic sensibilities.

“I see an analogy between painting a canvas and designing a room,” comments Braun.  In her painting  - as in her designing – Braun strives to capture a harmony among proportion, color, texture, and intention.  “I use layers and layers of color to achieve luminosity,” points out Braun, “and I do a lot of glazing for transparency.”  She hopes these aspects draw in viewers, compelling them to look for what’s behind each color.

The large color spaces of Braun’s canvases, with their emphasis on warm reds and yellows, reveal a number of other influences.  She refers to Richard Diebenkorn, famous for his large color-field paintings, as one of her favorite artists. “I like his use of negative space – in a Diebenkorn there’s always something going on,” says Braun.  She also lauds contemporary painter Sammy Peters for his abstract canvases, especially for his use of large blocks of color.  “And I also love Asian antiques,” Braun admits, alluding to her repeated use of a deep Chinese red.

In her paintings’ inventive play of colors and shapes, a rhythm emerges from Braun’s multilayered canvases.  Other elements – such as unusual handmade papers – add textural effects.  In City by the Bay, negative white spaces play against the artist’s dominant use of reds, and caramels as gray tones cool down the canvas’ warmer hues.

Braun also teaches art classes at Sunstone Healing Center, a retreat for patients undergoing cancer treatment.  “They lose themselves in something outside of their illness,” she observes.  Staring at her canvases, one can easily see why.