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Martin Ball’s new visions of old masters

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Martin Ball, Otira: After van der Velden

Martin Ball, Homage

Orex Gallery

Until December 10

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In one of his  short stories entitled “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” Jorge Luis  Borges tells of the nineteenth century author who writes a version of Don Quixote which is word for word the same as the original. However, his intention is not to copy the words, but to write them as if Cervantes had not already done so. The resulting work is said to be more subtle and relevant than the original Cervantes work.

This notion of invention and relevance as opposed to copying or appropriation has  a bearing on the work of Martin Ball and his references to pre-existing imagery. In his latest exhibition “Homage”,  the artists own vision is separate or parallel with that of the original artists, providing a new interpretation and a new way of seeing.

Where van de Velden’s Otira Gorge paintings encapsulate ideas about nineteenth century untamed Nature and the Sublime, Ball’s versions have been transformed through notions of Impressionism and abstraction into a new way of looking at the subject.

Ball’s van der Velden versions like “Otira Waterfall” has pared back the landscape, rocks and the dramatic  torrents of water to the basic elements of  colour, light and form.

Martin Ball, Pope Innocent X: After Velazques

With his paintings related to Velzsquez’s  “Pope Innocent X” portrait he joins a number of artists who have used the original works to create radically different versions. Even Velasquez himself painted several other versions as it was regarded as the high point of portraiture at the time. Francis Bacon used the portrait  as the basis of over forty of his works to make social, and personal comment. The interest in the Pope’s portrait also appears in Somerset Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence” as one of the protagonists in the book has a copy, painted in Rome, in his studio.

In his Queen Mariana he has removed most of the background dramatic curtains, furniture and elaborate dress of the original which emphasise the sitter’s status, instead concentrating on the complicated hair style which gives more focus to the individual’s face which takes on the mystery and intensity of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Martin Ball, Queen Mariana

While the van de Velden and Velasquez works are related to paintings, Ball’s waterfall works are based on the photographs of George Valentine. In these paintings such “Waitakere Falls; After Valentine” he produces soft focus or blurry  versions of the originals. This technique is the antithesis  of his previous works, notably his large portraits in which the attention to detail appears to be more realistic than that of a photograph.

Martin Ball, Waitakere Falls; After Valentine

Removed from their original historical setting and context the artist’s works take on a new distinctive, independent life.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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