The Ohio Project
Nicholas Johnson and Fenn Martin.
“The Ohio Project” was a synthesis of historical interests and motifs. Fenn Martin translated historic Islamic/Ottoman tile patterns into a unique vocabulary connecting the work of Owen Jones and his history of decorative art. Using a pressed mould technique, Fenn crafted imprinted patterns using only tools such as clevises, screwdrivers, pliers, and chainsaw chain. Nicholas apprenticed medieval glazed tempera painting in Austria, and painted with an unusual fusion of techniques. He often incorporated transfers, photocopies, and projected images into his compositions to maintain a level of realism without abandoning the abstract beauty of a painterly surface. He began with photographs of everyday rural scenes, distorted them by photo-mechanical means, and then painted from the degraded image.
Together we created a rich texture and colour palette, adjoining the stark, matte, three-dimensional patterns of clay with the soft beauty of paint. Each piece begans with an impromptu concept arising from sketching trips throughout the Ohio Valley. Further collaborative sketching is done in the studio. When we decided on a composition, work began on opposite ends of the studio. Panels were cut and ceramic tiles cast, our work informing one another’s as it developed. Motifs originally slated for inclusion in a painting are taken up into the ceramic relief; patterns that surface in the ceramic are mimicked in a layer of paint. As the ceramic dries and is fired, and the paintings near completion, we finalized colours and inlayed the different elements on a permanent mount. A finished piece has a fragmented patchwork quality of different patterns, textures, and media unified by colour, proximity and elaborate intertwining of narrative.