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Constructed Paintings

Sierra Martin at the Ironside Gallery



The Ironside Gallery is one of the newest cooperative galleries in Humboldt County. Formed in 2011, it offers a select group of area artists space to display and sell their work. The work on display rotates among more than 25 local artists and ranges from printmaking, handmade jewelry and photography to sculpture, painting, drawing, mixed media and more.

Ironside Gallery manager Denise Dodd says she strives for a broad sampling of artists and art in this new, ever-changing art space. "Every month we do something we didn't do the month before," she explained during a recent visit to the gallery. "Our main goals are diversity [and] an eclectic mix. We want new artists all the time. We don't want the same 12 people in here all the time. We want new people coming in."

Sierra Martin is one of the original members of the Ironside cooperative and his paintings are among those currently on display. The 30-year-old artist very much embodies the Ironside Gallery spirit. A Humboldt County native and a lifelong artist with a diverse background, Martin studied art at College of the Redwoods among other places. Before arriving at his current two-dimensional format, he was involved in filmmaking and sculpture. Sculptural elements figured predominantly in his earlier paintings. Looking at one of his older pieces, Martin says that over time his paintings have been "getting flatter and flatter." Despite this evolution, there is still a sculptural feel to his most recent work. The heavily layered surfaces, incorporating acrylics, ink, paper, glue, sand, tinfoil and wood, and the use of shapes and patterns, give the work a sense of being built or constructed rather than merely painted.

Standing in front of one of Martin's paintings, the first thing that strikes you is the rich colors with variations making them evocative of stained glass at times. The larger, bolder colored paintings are striking from a distance, but the lines and patterns that emerge draw the viewer in and invite closer inspection. The paintings are certainly abstract and non-representational, but with recognizable shapes and movement that sometimes suggest astronomical events or even computer chip patterns.

A self-professed "science geek," Martin draws some inspiration from the sciences in general, but his goal is definitely not metaphor or meaning. The materials themselves, and an exploration of personal aesthetic, play a larger role. Martin is reflective when asked about the inspiration and motivation behind his work, choosing his words carefully: "What I'm really interested in with the paintings is finding that deep down aesthetic -- what makes an image compelling once you remove the obvious metaphors. ... If you strip away all the familiar stuff and you're just playing with color and form, why is that [image] interesting? Why is it interesting at all?" His process seems less an act of will than an act of discovery, letting each new layer and application inform the next.

Martin's studio is his bedroom. While for some artists this might sound less than ideal, for Martin it works quite well. Asked about the benefits of his dual-purpose workspace he jokes, "I need to wake up in the morning and be ashamed of myself that I'm not working!" Being confronted with his work at all hours has a motivational effect. The proximity, along with Ironside Gallery deadlines, keeps Martin busy. As a result, his output is rather prolific. New and old work is stacked around the room, and he brings new pieces to Ironside on a regular basis.

Some of Martin's most recent work will be on display at the Ironside Gallery for Arts! Arcata on Friday, Feb. 10. He also has work at the Robert Goodman Winery at 937 10th St. in Arcata.

While Ironside is contantly scouting out potential members, it are also happy to be approached by interested artists. Dodd stressed that the gallery is there to support Humboldt County's local creative community. "We really just want to support artists who are out there just trying to be artists," she said. The gallery is a primary venue for the Humboldt Arts Project, which focuses on displaying the work of local emerging artists. For this month's Arts! Arcata, the Humboldt Arts Project is showing artwork at Ironside by eighth graders from Coastal Grove Charter School. Work by many other Ironside member artists will also be on display in addition to Martin's, including work by Tibora Bea, Gail McDowell, Matthew Meil, Otto Portillo, Marisa Sutter and Lance Torgerson.

The Ironside Gallery is located at 900 Ninth St. (at I Street) near the Arcata Co-op. 



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