martin kane studio


I am interested in urban landscape, in particular, the places that I have visited through my travels in Europe and America. Compositions are made from recognisable elements, the use of light and shadow play a significant role and perspective is unconventional. Absence is stronger than presence, surface details are left out. The work moves between abstraction and figuration.

EDUCATION: BA (Hons) Drawing & Painting,
Edinburgh College of Art (1987)
Post-graduate, Stirling University (2004)

Gartmore Investments, London
Cleveland Museum, Middlesbrough
Kelvingrove Musuem and Art Gallery, Glasgow
Harry Taylor of Ashton.
Works feature in private collections in Europe and USA.

You will see here, in the work of Martin Kane, a vista of strange landscapes, bleak urban tundra rendered in sallow ochres and burnt browns, gaunt architecture in an awesome emptiness tinged by a sulphurous gloaming. Roads and waterways wind in on themselves, going nowhere, or ascend sinuously into infinity. Human figures there are, but tiny, anonymous, bowed and overwhelmed. We could be in Glasgow or East Berlin or many other great European cities which, throughout our century, sold their souls to Mammon and have now inherited those monumental graveyards of the industrial revolution.

Kane knows Glasgow best because he lives and works there, just off the Gallowgate, which is notorious in Scottish legend as a pulsating artery into the eastern environs of the old city. Today, not far from Glasgow Cross, the Gallowgate soon loses its identity and becomes yet another way of getting away to somewhere else. The neighbourhood is still feisty on Saturday nights, but its reputation as one of humanity's most insalubrious stews rests on folk memory and the reminiscent twaddle which maintains that even nostalgia "isn't what it used to be".

Not all that long ago one of the Gallowgate's most famous sons, the ubiquitous football guru Tommy Docherty, told a television audience how miserable that warren of wage-slaves had been in his childhood between the wars. We got the usual awful litany of five-in-a-bed, peeling wallpaper, assorted filth and bugs the size of your fingernail. And hunger and shame and deprivation. A studio companion let him finish then, with the reductive mischief which sparkles the best of Scottish humour, he mused: "Aye, the Gallowgate...we used to go there for our holidays."

Day after day, month after month, Kane steps over the human derelicts who shelter in his studio doorway at East Campbell Street and walks off into the greater dereliction, the bulldozed post-industrial wilderness which, from a blizzard of sketches, forms the vocabulary of what he calls his "human psychological landscapes, rather than social documentaries".

His style and palette are so fixed and assertive that you recognise his images immediately at fifty yards.
Kane's canvases resonate like the doom of T S Eliot's 'The Waste Land':

And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust

And it is not diificult to hear haunted echoes of Ash Wednesday and Burnt Norton whispering in the shadows. No green grows. Not a stitch of blue in poisonous skies. The space he creates on his canvases is unique, his own carefully collaged terrain, but he builds his surreal towns from recognisable symbolic shapes which have survived demolition. Bold horizontals are railway tunnels spanning empty streets or the beams of idle steam hammers. Arched caverns pierce thick walls. His verticals are chimneys, viaducts, spires and the soaring gables of dismal domestic towers. Windows, without exception, are blinded eyes. Mr Eliot intrudes again:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past

Kane, too, is a melancholy poet of the waste land. His almost permanent dusks fade to twilight as the glory of a great city awaits the descent of total darkness. Lonely figures, suspended in time, adrift in their dislocated environment, are trapped in the mess which mankind has made of the world. If there is any hope it lies perhaps in the glimmer of light which beckons beyond even his most toxic horizon. In new paintings his colour is, if anything, richer and more somnolent, his manipulation of light even more masterly. Pastels, drawn on paper textured like canvas, have subtle radiance.

These may seem at first sight to be cerebral paintings, symbolist and surrealist, plotted with geometric precision, obeying classical disciplines and crafts with painstaking skills. For these reasons I used to think that Kane's work was as cool as De Chirico's, whose manipulation of perspective and pittura metafisica he openly admires; as frugally monumental as the silent witness and earth colours of Morandi's still-lives; as poetically mysterious as Hopper's relentless investigation of the oddness of ordinariness. Like them, his connection with the human condition seemed detached and incidental.

But over the years I have recognised that in one important respect I was wrong. Kane is in fact a romantic and passionate painter. It took his visit to East Berlin after the wall came down to convince me. Out of so much Stalinist brutalism, grimy concrete monoliths and faceless egg-box dormitories, the artist - the poet in him - recognised something to celebrate in the sovreignty of the human spirit. Tomorrows are other days.

Kane is 38. Born in Cardiff he spent his childhood in Clydebank. He trained at Glasgow School of Art for a year then gave himself a culture shock by moving to Edinburgh and completing a College of Art diploma course in 1987. Apart from having his work shown in various group exhibitions, he is almost unknown to the Scottish gallery-going public. And why should he be? A year after leaving college he had his first solo show - in London - and has enjoyed several sell-ous in the metropolis. His work has been bought in Paris, Los Angeles and Atlanta, And it had to be dragged out of this ambitious but unassuming young man that, it's true, a famous Hollywood actor has a room full of Martin Kanes - no fewer than 10 landscapes inspired by Glasgow's Gallowgate - aloft his mansion in Beverly Hills.

W Gordon Smith, 1996