Martin Webb "Family Security Matters"

Martin Webb let me in to see his Albany studio the other day. I didn’t realize Martin lived so far from Oakland…Albany? Where am I?

He medium scale works that use building materials focus on themes of invisibility and identity. Being an immigrant from England himself, he described the many ways he address those themes. Below are so of his words.

I’d never seen groups of day laborers waiting for work until I came to the US and I was simultaneously shocked, confused and fascinated by what I saw. When I’ve mentioned this to fellow European migrants many of them have shared the same reaction. Most of my recent paintings have documented personal travels and journeys so it seems like a natural progression to include the notion of migration into the work.
I started to browse online for images of day laborers and found the major source of them to be extreme anti-immigration activist sites such as http://www.minutemenproject.com and the extraordinary http://www.familysecuritymatters.org. I thought the latter title was ironic since “family security” is what generally fuels economic migration so I borrowed “Family Security Matters” as the working title for the series. These are the first in a series of paintings seeking to re-purpose those images and to pay homage to the personal, human stories behind the people in them.”


How that’s tied to my history? Even for a middle class, well-educated white guy the immigration process is pretty grueling. On a personal level, you’re making a big commitment to a very uncertain future, detaching yourself from your own culture, family and friends, and entering a state of permanent limbo where you never fully belong anywhere. Then there’s the inevitable cultural difference that develops between you and your own kids – its not an easy thing to decide to do, or to live out once you’ve decided to do it.
I was in Southern California and happened to use a parking lot that was a pickup spot for day laborers and across the street was a bunch of anti-immigration protesters waving flags, filming anyone that spoke the laborers, and generally harassing them. I thought, “Have you any idea how much these guys have had to deal with to get here? Do you really think their first choice is to be standing in a parking lot waiting to some underpaid menial work?”. I see those guys and I see a bunch of personal situations, reasons, and stories that have taken them to that point. I don’t see the lazy, opportunistic freeloaders that the campaigners try to paint them to be. I think most people try not to see them at all.
I’ve been painting my semi-abstract landscape, sometimes figurative work for a while dealing with my own travel experiences so the Family Security Matters series is a natural extension of that and something I want to keep developing. They’re not intended as a political rant – more a series of personal portraits.

Just as an observation – I think there’s been an abundance of escapist/fantastical work around the last few years which seems to me increasingly irrelevant in this recessionary time. Looking back, I think artists have generally responded to bleak times with work that engages with the real, the personal, the societal, or the timeless, which has usually turned out to be a good thing.

Current influences? I’m re-connecting with the St Ives Group – a mid-century movement in England whose work was everywhere when I was growing up but were out of fashion by that time. Especially painters Bryan Winter, Peter Lanyon, and Keith Vaughan.


Current local picks? I really identified with Yee Jan Bao”s paintings at Michael Wolf, and John Yoyogi Fortes from Vallejo is awesome. Totally different stuff, but I admired Brian Caraway’s work and Kristina Lewis’s pieces at Johannson.

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