The January show at Galatea at 450 B Harrison Ave with David Martsolf really took me for a cruise around the universe. His work has been described as surrealist with tactics heavily grounded in architecture. However the real impact I found is in the acknowledgement of a common human narrative rooted in a search for meaning and the understanding of existence. His precise use of visual language challenges the viewer to question ideas of spirituality, memory and reality. I was lucky enough to spend some quality one on one time in the gallery with David and his incredible work.
His piece The Cathedral juxtaposes an empty human ribcage to the hollow structure of a Cathedral ceiling leading to a brightly lit area as a spiritual space. It can then be assumed that at the end of the empty rib cage lies a human skull that mirrors the cathedrals spiritual space.
“Well what is a soul? Is the empty center of the middle of your mind or your body? Is it this place where physics finally runs out and this concept of oneness? And what is nothing if nothing is something?”
“One thing I’ve always been intrigued by is the whole notion of spirituality and that space in your head as being nothing. I like to play with that space; the nothing. If there is a unified space”
“They call it surrealism, but there is a unified space, that is a real place. It’s like you could walk through a door and see that. You wouldn’t have to lose your corporeal sense.”
The connection Martsolf draws between realist architectural structures and surrealist contexts collapses the commonly assumed binary between spirituality and science. David strives to explore that space where “physics run out”.
Nostalgic Confections sticks to the spiritual theme with its vivid depictions of time and memory in a metaphysical context.
“I was looking at whoever this guy is, he is remembering his life. He’s older in the middle and the man at the top is his younger self. When I drew this thing I wanted to do something like Dalhi did where the whole head is drawn by pieces of matter flying around and see what the result was. So after words I said ‘ok this could be it, this could be his wife and his child and memories from his youth and his dreams of wealth and power and what he wanted to be and he wanted to control the world’.”
Martsolf’s use of a fabricated narrative calls the existence of a collective consciousness into question because the experience is one that most can relate to.
Before we dive into the more surrealist pieces, an important point of reference to understanding Martsolf’s work is the notion of fear in Close Shave. This piece has a definitive setting differing for the majority of his work that places photorealistic figures in a surreal context.
David created the painting based on a candid photograph of his friend who was spooked in a while shaving.
The image presents a more animalistic human state resembling fear outside a socialized and controlled state.
Surface Tension is the only other piece in the show that seemed to stray away from Martsolf’s usual surreal setting. The giant oil painting depicts a group of people posing for a picture relating to a common human experience.
“These are like people you know. They are just regular people having a barbeque. There’s nothing weird about them. They’re not like the Close Shave kind of guy. But the Close Shave kind of guy is going to come back because he’s the guy that leads to a different world. That world still exists. And I’ve always had a love for fear relationships.”
“These kinds of people don’t go into that world; the one that is so heightened like the Close Shave guy. The Close Shave guy is there in all of us buried way down deep.”
“I don’t want him to be the entire focus of all my work in the future, but he’s there and I would like to use that.”
He continues to explore fear relationships his piece Calypso by acknowledging it on a spectrum of human emotion. It is by far the creepiest piece in the show as well as my favorite.
“The law of attraction, the law of attention, all that kind of stuff, you know You want to have love in your life and put it out there and that’s all great, so there’s this love and the lack of love and So on. But these others; the one of anger, the one of fear, the ones that can really be uncontrollable in a bad way interest me. You know religion never wants to make you feel that way, and I understand that.”
“I love the world I love being in the world but to me when you start talking about infinity, it’s like ‘infinity doesn’t care’. Infinity only demands that everything exists. It has to exist. It’s not like we can go to the positive end and stay there.”
“I mean that’s fine and as an individual I’d like to do that myself. I spend a lot of time there. I really want to travel, I enjoy good things I have a good life, a great family. But the negative side, these things are real and just because we don’t want them that doesn’t mean that they’re not real”
“There is a oneness and it meets here, at the middle. They’re all there but they all meet in the same place. I put the calm face in the center because he is the only one who is able to balance all these emotions and then we go into the Close Shave guy’s world.”
“You can go from end to end but when you die it’s beyond all this. It’s beyond everything we know. It’s beyond galaxies, universes, and the concept of space. I don’t even know what that is but it’s a oneness. It’s everything. If you can conceive of it, it exists.”
So what is next for Martsolf? He voyages further into the human psyche with ideas from his interest in quantum physics. I think the following conclusion Martsolf has drawn based on Einstein’s theory will lead to some amazing work in the future.
“Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity talks about the universe from each of our own personal perspective. Our experience is that as objects move away from us at ever increasing speed that the wavelength of any emitted energy becomes longer and longer (the old example of the locomotive whistle sounding lower in pitch as it passes us and speeds away from us). A parallel concept is that the mass of the object becomes larger and larger.”
“Now switch to our expanding universe. The nearby galaxies are moving away at a certain speed, but because the universe is expanding at every point, those galaxies farther away are moving away from us at a higher speed. It is now accepted that there are objects moving away from us at greater than the speed of light relative to us, but of course if you were on an earth in that galaxy the light from your sun would behave just as the light from our own sun behaves. It would be us moving faster than light speed relative to them.”
“This makes the concept of our position very interesting from our point of view. We each have a personal sphere around us where at some point all objects are moving away from us at light speed. Those objects (from our point of view) also have infinite mass. What is that sphere? It’s inner surface is black as now object beyond it can radiate any energy back to us since it is moving away from us faster than light speed.”
“Indeed, all matter around us is moving away from us, you could say “falling” away from us toward that event horizon beyond which we cannot see. In a sense we each live at the center of our own black hole.”
“Although this is years old and over a million people have viewed it, I still think the concept is worth bringing into a painting that includes humans. And, it is just so cool in any event. I marvel at the universe and I love the exploration of everything.”
This exhibit is no longer up but look out for Martsolf’s work in future galleries or just buy his insanely cool book.