Profile: Eugene J. Martin (1938-2005)

Eugene James Martin was an African-American visual artist.


Eugene J. Martin’s art is best known for his imaginative, complex mixed media collages on paper, his often gently humorous pencil and pen and ink drawings, and his paintings on paper and canvas that may incorporate whimsical allusions to animal, machine and structural imagery among areas of “pure”, constructed, biomorphic, or disciplined lyrical abstraction. Martin called many of his works straddling both abstraction and representation “satirical abstracts”. He did not create sculptures.

Eugene James Martin was born on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.. His parents were Margaret Helen Dove and James Walter Martin, an itinerant Jazz musician. After his mother died in 1942 giving birth to Jerry Martin, the two brothers were placed in foster care in Washington DC. As a child, Eugene ran away on several occasions, was placed in reform school at six years of age, and eventually spent the remainder of his childhood on a farm in Clarksburg, Maryland where his foster parents were Franie and Madessa Snowdon. On the farm he drew realistic portraits and nature scenes, and also played upright bass, thunder bass, and slide trombone in the local rhythm & blues band The Nu-tones. After attending Clarksburg Elementary, and Lincoln High and Carver High in Rockville, Maryland, Martin pondered whether to become a full-time musician or visual artist. He briefly attended the Navy for the opportunity to receive an art education, but instead was honorably discharged.

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