Sun Scenes: April Martin in the Studio

September 27, 2017 by

“I can’t remember why I started working with coffee filters.” April Martin pauses, “I had coffee filters and I had Tang, and the coffee filter form is so much like a cake or bundt pan.”

That particular thought propelled one of the many episodes of April’s Lara Giordano Legacy Grant Residency, spent shaping her experimental sculpture practice to fit the Workshop’s clay and print-focused studios. In this scene, April and Woody used two sheets of metal and the hydraulic papermaking press to try and flatten an aluminum bundt pan. In another episode, she sent foil and mesh through the intaglio press and, in a third, she rolled out a deep blue-violet lithography ink.

In fact, for April it often comes down to the color blue and other hues that have what she calls material-linguistic connections: the very specific orange that constitutes Tang, potassium ferricyanide of cyanotypes, or red clay dust. They have the potential to accumulate, wash, ooze, or soak as time-based media. “When you open a can of ink,” she says, “that goo—that’s what I want.”

April’s residency began in the ceramics studio with white earthenware clay and a bag of blue Miracle-Gro pellets. This project builds on something she noticed in graduate school when a cup of liquid Miracle-Gro sat in her studio. After months it would not evaporate and it eventually crystallized. The question rose: if left to seep through a vessel wall, could this “glaze” bisqueware from the inside out?

By coiling—the slow building up of clay in horizontal strips—and hand-forming, April made test bowls and two large vessels. Because of the time needed for crystals to appear, the latter were filled with indigo dye and placed  out in the sun and rain. If left in similar conditions, one liquid could eventually expand while the other disappeared. Both would render the forms unusable by traditional standards, unsafe to hold food and water, but this function is not April’s intention.

“In general, I write about my work exploring materials that are in constant states of touching,” she explains. “Then that expands think about waves on sand, or light on copper, and our own embodied understanding of touch.”

Recently, April has brought together structures on the microscopic scale, such as the crystalline and porous, and finds correlations in occurrences as widespread as the ocean waves. She worked with a chemist in Chicago to learn more about organized and disorganized structures. From disorganized forms, the liquid state, she can find references back to constancy of continual movement and touch. She adds, “There is some formal level here I am beginning to understand.”

In another moment during her residency, April cut cloth to fit the upstairs gallery windows and dyed them with cyanotype fluid. As liquid stains, so does sunlight and, in previous projects, April has traced where the light fell. The  literal translation of the word photography encompasses much of April’s work: the lines and shapes of light historically marked by the very cyanotype photogram processes she uses. In a broader sense, her practice looks for the impressions of forms and forces, disorganized and organized, existing in the world.

April points out that, while connected to expansive elements such as time, the sea, and light, her projects have to be contained, this time in handbuilt ceramic vessels and fit on windows. Instigating these processes—seeping, crystallizing, staining—in this controlled way not only provides a way for her draw connections, but also find new ways to mark these occurrences. “Taking a photograph will never be enough.”

April Martin is an artist who keeps returning to Virginia Woolf’s The Waves and the color blue in her practice. She holds her BA from McGill University, BFA from Concordia University, and MFA in Fine Art Sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Find more photographs from her residency on our Flickr!