Sometimes fate does things very well, and this time it has allowed me to meet Martine Martine, a brilliant artist.
I found myself at the Centre Pompidou when a charming lady heard me talking about Balzac. She proposed to me to go visit Martine Martine’s exposition in the Nicolas Deman gallery, just next to La Palette (in the sixth arrondissement).
That’s how my story with the artist began: following this visit, I called her and made a meeting in her studio.
D-Day I arrive accompanied by Emilie, and we meet Martine Martine, who moves delicately between canvases and giant sculptures; very quickly, I am enchanted by her vivacity, her joie de vivre and, above all, by her generosity.
We are greeted in the open lower level of the superb workshop. There cluster plasters, canvases, bronzes, oil paintings, gouaches, jewels, family photos, Balzac quotes, awards. Everything is marvelously organized – it’s an organized chaos.
Martine Martine is a warm-hearted artist, dreamy and, more than that, very ambitious. Bathed in light, her studio is a place where you feel at ease. A sensation of fullness floats among all of the works and the presence of this great artist.
We find ourselves faced with immense paintings of Balzac; the writer is represented with a broad figure, a huge smile, and colors that are often vivid – blue, green, red…
“In reality, I do not arrive at the studio with a preconceived objective; nothing is premeditated, I never know in advance what I will do, not even if I will sculpt, paint or draw, and so a certain state of interior vacuity troubles me.” Matine Martine, interview with M.F. Sassier, “Balzac jour & nuit”
Intrigued by her name, I ask her where it comes from. She then tells me that as a very young artist, slightly timid, she responded to a journalist who asked her surname, “Martine.” The journalist asked her first name as well, and she again responded “Martine.” That day the journalist baptized her with her artistic pseudonym without knowing it – Martine Martine.
Her Troyes childhood was bathed in literature and painting, in a “luxurious and Proustian” atmosphere, as her father said. Her grandmother held a literary salon; each of her passionate parents drew and painted very well. She was also close to another artist of Troyes, Maurice Marinot, who drew the family in all their styles.
During the war, the family took refuge at Valençay, where the masterpieces of the Louvre were hid. Her parents met conservators, which was an occasion to deepen their museum knowledge while listening analyses of various paintings.
She went to a good school, this small collectors’ daughter, surrounded by the great masters Derain and Marinot. She only had one desire, to paint and to sculpt. Derain, whom her parents asked for advice, told her, “Look at the masters’ works, then forget them.”
For about ten years, Martine Martine has been animated by a passion for Balzac, and day after day she draws, paints, and sculpts Balzac. Notebooks of more than forty pages are filled with his portraits; the pages flutter by under my gaze… One of her bronzes is at Saché, Balzac’s property; we can also see a painting at the Balzac House in Paris.
This passion arrived after others. That of Japanese sumo wrestlers was followed by one of horses, tribes, hands, concerts; thus the years pass, and the artist’s gaze fixes on another subject.
The hands have a troubling history that shows the artist’s great sensibility. On September 11th, 2001, she was painting hands while one of her friends informed her of the tragedy in New York. She stopped everything. Some time afterward, some American friends came and saw this painting, which showed towers, fire, and eleven imploring hands.
These passions are sometimes triggered by insignificant events, like the postcard from a Japanese friend which launched the subject of sumos. Martine has made many trips to Japan but has in fact never seen sumo fights.
The visit continues in this labyrinth, and I discover at length all of these sculptures, paintings, engravings and even jewels, such as the ring that she wears. The artists does not cease to create, to innovate. She is interested in all sorts of techniques. I catch sight of an engraving of hands that she had done herself.
She shows me the first Balzac, and I understand that every time, the sculpture precedes the painting. What surprises me every time that I discover one of her works is the force and the energy set spinning by a woman of such fragile appearance. She attacks without hesitation a monster of literature, Balzac, who Rodin took seven years to sculpt! As if she was inexhaustibly seeking a truth in incessantly repeating the writer’s traits, I wonder what she really wants to achieve, but I have the impression that she doesn’t know herself.
Never having seen a bronze smelting, I had the chance to accompany her to the Fonderie de la Plaine, where she was smelting her two-meter-high Quasimodo. What an experience! The technique used is lost wax technique. Matine makes a few small retouches on the small dancers, and then the moment arrives, and we wind into a sort of cave. There, the show is very impressive. A ball of fire (liquid bronze) runs in the molds – a job perfectly done!
Currently, an exposition called “Balzac, Day After Day…” is consecrated to the writer in the multimedia center of Troyes. The commissioner of the exposition, Cécile Navarra, displays a series of washes representing Balzac and a few bronzes. About fifteen works are placed among other drawings and caricatures of the author.
I would like to end my article with a glimpse of this sculpture, the couple “Anna and the Man of the Woods” (1978-1979), which I was able to see in the beautiful garden of the Museum of Modern Art in Troyes, created by her parents, Pierre and Denise Levy.
Florence Briat Soulie
A comprehensive annotated catalogue, edited by Daniel Marchesseau, was published in 2015 at Editions du Regard.
Translated by Landon Kramer Vassar College, Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris Fall 2016.