Essay by Sandy Brown, artist and writer, for ‘Whole Life Cost’ – 2006

Travelling without knowing the destination

This exhibition represents the work of a deeply spiritual man who is at the same time working at the peak of his abilities as an artist and in the process of change.

We see in this show some furniture pieces, which represent the pinnacle of this superb craftsman’s abilities; the knowledge and supreme confidence, which comes from years of, acquired knowledge of his materials and of his forms. The sensual curves and forms of the dining table and chairs shown here have reached a beautiful intelligent climax.

Currently Guy Martin is almost exclusively working in English ash, he says it is a most undervalued material, which has a deliciously creamy and can have the smoothest silky patina.

His values serve to ground him; his connection with the earth is expressed in the fact that he physically goes out to harvest the ash thinnings from nearby woodland. In his workspace there are slender trunks drying, which will become rounded human shapes, formed in the pliability of steam.

The furniture pieces are a visual and physical delight. To the eye they look balanced, organic, as if they have evolved in the making through a light process of doodling. In fact, a significant feature of some pieces, the double row of gently softened curved wood seen in the Conversation Chair and the Soetsu stool, came to Guy Martin in a dream. It gives the forms both strength and beauty, and is a sublime way of achieving both.

It is extraordinary, really, that structures which look so relaxed in the making, as if they
have just evolved, as if the pieces of ash and metal have somehow quietly arranged themselves into a shape, with no human intervention, should in fact be technically complex requiring considerable mental concentration to construct.

He gives a great deal of thought to the sitter on his chairs and stools to ensure one is
comfortable, uplifted; held, literally and spiritually. Immediately I sat on the stool called Soetsu I decided I must have one (I have since successfully arranged for one to be given to me for my birthday). I felt composed, straightened; my posture reorganized to its true centre. I must admit this surprised me, as I think I did not expect such a visual delight would also be so physically attuned, And now that I think more about it, I realize that it is actually quite rare for a piece of furniture to fit one’s body well, to make one’s body feel better for having sat on it. And somehow satisfying, when I sometimes feel we live in a high-tec world where everything is designed to bits, that a modern traditional contemporary craftsman should be hand-making a chair and a stool, which actually works. Body and soul are beautifully nourished.

As we stood in front of the gently tapering cupboard Hi Ho, Guy showed me the way
in which he is embracing modern technology, combining it with his love of a mediaeval simplicity. Textured surfaces, made by the saw, are lime waxed and left, providing a rough ‘skin’; all fixings are obvious and visible and contemporary, using the cool minimalism of stainless steel, a material which is lyrically complementary to the sandy whiteness of the ash.

How could one’s spirits not be lifted every time one touched it? Every time one looked at it? There is no greater way to enhance our quality of life than to incorporate such art into the very fabric of our daily lives.

In making pieces for use, for us to choose and buy, Guy Martin is making available a most wonderful gift, which we would be mad not to take advantage of. It should be available on the NHS. It should be in churches. It should be in our homes and part of us.

And yet change happens, whether we want it or not. Two years ago Guy Martin suffered a personal tragedy. For anyone it would have been a traumatic shock; for a creative person in addition it becomes nearly impossible to work. To be creative one must have no fear; must often make a leap of faith, be able to take risks, be optimistic; if not all the time then at least in that moment.

Guy Martin has found that one way back to his creative ability is to collaborate with others. Through the creative sparks that come when artists get together he is rediscovering the joy of playfulness, of experimentation, of travelling without knowing the destination.

In order to write this piece I had the perfect excuse to visit Guy’s house and studio. It
is such a treat, no, a privilege, to see how his whole life as a craftsmen, artist, maker, husband and father is integrated. His house is full of Guy Martin pieces I had previously seen only in galleries; however wonderful galleries are, we are inevitably made distant from the object by the act of revering, looking, admiring. In the home we see the reality; a music stand next to the piano for his flautist wife to read her current piece; a beautiful willow curved high back chair in the bathroom with clothes and towels draped on it; CDs in the Guy Martin CD stand; early curvy chairs in the dining room which we sat on for lunch.

He shows us how to live with and use works of art; naturally, unselfconsciously.

We talked about his childhood; his father, Frank Martin, was a sculptor who used clay; Guy grew up living on a converted coastal motor torpedo boat moored by the sea, where,

inspired by his father making things, Guy had all the ingredients he needed to develop his creativity; a childhood spent outside, trees nearby to climb; tools, flotsam and found materials to play with. In many ways, the child is the man. He is playing again, through the collaborations with the artists he has chosen, feeling a sense of liberation in leaving function to one side for the time being, and seeing what happens when you do that.

His collaboration process with Jane Price started with their taking a walk along a beach; Jane, an artist paper maker collecting materials and pigments to be ground and used in the paper, with Guy responding, thinking of making a container for the paper. The resulting ‘box’ is beautifully sculptural, monumental even, Strong rounded columns in the blackened ash walls, held together with big bolts with something very new: Colour! The bolts are painted pale green, which made me laugh out loud. So cheeky!

Guy Martin is in his 60th year; that is a great time for a fit maker like him. He has a wealth of experience of working with willow and ash. A deep understanding of a kinesthetic response to form; a subconscious with the ability to deliver him dreams, which invent beautiful ways of strengthening curved wood. He has a very active brain, which likes setting up challenges such as using only natural fixings, which is of course part of his ethics. He is young enough and fit enough to have a huge body of work ahead of him.