A Face on Mars

The Accidental By-Product, 2009, Oil paint, dry pigment, varnish and alkyd on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

The Accidental By-Product, 2009


The title of this exhibition of paintings, A Face on Mars, reveals Martinsen’s fascination with the human need for companionship and search for a higher power. The fact that people find images of Jesus Christ on the side of a tree, on a piece of cloth or even a piece of toast alludes to the concept that people find references to human figures or images identifiable by our society in almost anything, and whether consciously or not we are searching for them.

Virginia’s paintings are created by pouring liquid paint and dry pigments onto canvases that are positioned flat on the floor. The paint is then left to settle onto the canvas, sometimes creating large pools of paint, and with no further manipulation they take on their own form. The resulting formations are the product of gravity on the canvas, which is forced to stretch accommodating the weight of the paint. As the paint travels over the surface of the canvas the pigments and oil separate from the varnish and mediums, streaks and clumps of paint are created, both solidifying and evaporating. Eventually dried out circular forms, by-products of the painting process, become centers of some of the paintings.

Her painting process is informed by her many visits to Austrian, actionist Hermann Nitsch at his castle in Prinzendorff, Austria, where she was inspired by Nitsch’s concept of a pour or splatter of paint referencing a stab with a knife, or an extensive, experience of existence.

Martinsen’s title “A Face on Mars” refers to the images brought back from Viking 1 taken in 1976, revealing an image that appeared to be a humanoid face on the surface of Mars. People believed that this was an indication of alien life, however latter pictures revealed that the original image of the face was simply the result of shadows and camera angle. Our reaction to those images reveals our desire to know that we are not alone and also to identify something familiar in the unknown.   Martinsen’s abstract paintings are based on her fascination with the human need to identify with or find a familiarity in the unknown.






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