The present work, Rhythm, created in 1964-65, signifies an important phase in Martin’s constructed reliefs. With these ‘Rhythm’ works, a cube sliced diagonally became the unit of choice, with the ‘sliced’ underside mirrored and the half cubes then arranged in a sequence that allowed both repetition and variation, a ‘rhythm’ of form. In these works, what Martin terms the ‘tilt’ was of fundamental importance in introducing shadow and colour: ‘The vitality of the tilt had some connection with the ability to move and change on the part of an element which was virtually uncommitted. A new and fifth element had come into play; namely the shadow. What interested me here was not so much the shape of the cast shadow, which is obvious, but the colour varying with the angle of the tilt so that shadow and substance played with each other’ (Mary Martin, ‘Character of the Oblique’, 1969, published in The Structurist, quoted in op. cit., p.28). Whilst later variants, such as Compound Rhythms with Blue, 1966, Arts Council Collection, include touches of colour, Rhythm is pure white, wood and mirror. This restraint imbues the work with a certain purity but also emphasises the centrality of the environment and the playfulness of the work’s relation to its surroundings. The mirrors reflect both the work and the environment, introducing layers of light and colour, and re-presenting the surroundings and even the viewer within the work itself. Profoundly interested in the relationship between art and architecture and the recipient of numerous commissions by architects, Martin sought to bring her work into the real world and the introduction of mirrors enabled such an integration. This ludic interaction of light and colour further established the primacy of movement: ‘The expressive content has been concerned with movement and change, being geometrically and mathematically based…With a maximum of movement of elements within the work, actual movement has seemed unnecessary and stillness essential.’ (Mary Martin, ‘Reflections’, 1967, quoted in op. cit., p.33). Due to time-consuming commissions, her intensive methods and early death, Martin’s body of work is small: Rhythm is one of very few reliefs of such scale and quality in private collections, and ranks amongst the best of British Constructivism, sophisticated in simplicity and playful in ever-changing light, shadow and colour.
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