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Ralph Martel

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Born 7 June 1935. In 1958 Ralph Martel, studied at Cooper Union graduating with honors in 1962. Worked 1962-68 as graphic artist in NYC. In 1970 he started at the Staten Island Community College. Martel refined the foundation sculpture course Art 150 to include two and three-dimensional design and these were integrated with MAC-CAD programs. In Art 250 & 350 students carve stone, wood pieces or further sculpt forms with TIG welders using solid and transparent silhouettes. These were developed with CAD studies. Art 120, drawing uses rendering techniques and students design with strong photographic chiaroscuro qualities. 

In Art 175 "Studio Art, theory and practice" students use geometric ideas to organize their paintings. These concepts were adopted from Albrecht Dürer's publication of the Dresden Sketchbook, 1528. Professor Martel adopted this concept of order to include Phyllotaxis, which is basically leaf arrangement or the laws that govern them. The tendencies of the leaves to grow in a specific manner give patterns to a visual study of natural geometry and open the way for the artist to bring it into focus and exploit a new challenge. 

1968, first prize "Experiments in Art and Technology," for "Heart Beats Dust. Shown at MOMA, NYC. The Brooklyn Museum, MOMA, San Francisco and St. Thomas Museum, Houston in Pontus Hulten's "The Machine" The prize was awarded to Martel by Engineers from Bell Laboratories for converting sound into motion by an unusual method.

1990, Mellon Foundation Grant for paper on Albrecht Dürer's "Four Riders of the Apocalypse" at Graduate Center CUNY.

1991-2006 research painter's geometry in 50 paintings. 2001 gave Dürer paper on the Apocalypse at the CADE conference, Glasgow, Scotland.

2003 Drexel University set 5 Dürer papers at mathforum ("what's new" 18 May 2003).

2004 Antonio Natali, Renaissance studio, authorized use of Uffizi Gallery slides of Leonardo da Vinci's "Annunciation" and "Baptism of Christ".

2006 presented "Durer at 13," for middle school geometry teachers and geometric phyllotaxis images from photos of woodlands at Discovery Institute's Technology Conference. Professor Martel exhibited: OIA exhibits in NYC, Staten Island Institute, Westbeth, NYC, from 1970 to present. Beauborg Centre Culture Pompidou, Paris, Sigma Group Bordeaux, Coltejer Bienal, Columbia, S.A., Chancellor's Show, Shanghai, China, Mueso de Anthropologia y Arte, Rio Piedras P.R., 1979 CAPS Fellowship.

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Quotes from the Artist

Ralph Martel

"When I started out as a painter in the late 50s, my first influences were the abstract expressionists of the N.Y. School - mail Gorky, Kline deKooning and Tworkov.  Ingesting their mighty forces and trying at the same time to make a personal statement proved a quick task. But I was convinced that their way was the most honest way to paint, and after a long uphill struggle I think it is why my own hand did finally emerge.

During a study year I spent in France in 1965, I had use of a larger painting studio and some welding equipment.  I made use of both.  The welded steel sculptures I produced then just added the third dimension to my painting - the move felt very natural.  Back in N.Y. I continued working in this vein for a couple of years but in 1967 I was rerouted to the making of hi-tech kinetic sculpture when another artist and my self entered an won first prize in an international sculpture competition sponsored by Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T).  Our sculptures became part of the show “The Machine”, curated by Pontus Hulten.  The show opened at the Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., and at the Brooklyn Museum simultaneously before moving on th Huston and San Francisco.  I stayed with Kinetic sculptures for several years, but in the end I found the mode frustrating and I reverted back again to creating stabile structures.

For a while I worked for Roy Gussow on mirror polished stainless sculptures, and a small part of his reflective ideas seeped into my own work.  I constructed pieces made of wood and mirrored stainless steel sheets that were intended to produce a rhythmic interplay of spaces and reflections.  Viewers were expected to  interpret his interplay as they walked around a particular peeve.  These sculptural ideas evolved through many stages.  Still later, I concentrated on introducing curved forms into my work which until them had been rather linear.  This effort let to the undertaking of developing my own techniques for bending wood.”

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March 28, 2018

US Department of Veterans Affairs: 
Veteran artist Ralph Martel was not well enough to attend the reception for a piece of sculpture he and his family donated to VA’s Manhattan campus, but he and his sons were able to connect with the festivities via Facetime. Martel’s wife Huguette and a group of longtime friends participated in the reception held in front of the wood sculpture which is mounted in an alcove on the 2nd floor near the cafeteria where it enormously enhances the space.
About Ralph Martel
Navy Veteran Ralph Martel, worked, “intensely and joyfully” in his studio every day, recalls his son James Martel, now a Professor of Political Theory at San Francisco State University. Growing up and later, James admired Ralphs many skills, “He was good at a large number of things, welding, joinery, carpentry and he made his own tools sometimes.” James says his father knew art of Intarsia, an Italian wood inlaying technique and Japanese joinery and incorporated these intricate techniques in his wood sculptures which curve and flow with deceptive simplicity.
He was inventive and playful too. James recalls being fascinated with the way his father wielded a grease machine that spurted red lipstick grease into sculptural forms as the machine was moved from place to place. James said he and other children from families who lived at Westbeth Artists Housing loved Ralph’s 20’-30’- long sculptures made of a synthetic material that he inflated and then deflated in the building courtyard. Westbeth is an all artists building,” says James. “There were lots of super dinner parties, it was very fun.”
Ralph was born and raised in Lynn, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the Navy serving as a ship journalist during his tours in the Mediterranean and also for a shorter time in the Caribbean. After the military, Martel came to New York and studied art at Cooper Union where he met his wife Huguette. Also a professional artist, she worked as a cartoonist for the New Yorker and then became a French teacher, a job she still enjoys today.
“In many ways he followed his own way,” says Huguette. The couple’s younger son Django is a Veterinarian who sometimes treats some of the animals housed at the Bronx Zoo.
Along with making elegant abstract sculptures using many varieties of wood, Ralphalso explored experimental interactive art. In the 1960’s, for example, he created with Jean Dupuy a sculpture entitled “Heat Beats Dust” a work exhibited at MOMA in 1968. The piece, combined art and technology and involved the viewer in listening to his heartbeat with a stethoscope. The heartbeat was amplified and synchronized with the movement of red dust contained in the display. Ralph Martel was also a dedicated teacher. CUNY Staten Island Professor Emeritus Morty Schiff, while Chair of the Performing and Creative Arts Department, appointed Martel to the position he held for many years,” The two became close friends, Schiff says, “ He’s always had a great imagination and great skill as a craftsman. Ralph finds the soul of the materials he’s worked – wood, aluminum and various other materials  Martel enjoys talking about his life as an artist, the materials he used and the places his works were exhibited.

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