What more can be said about Martha Alf’s art that has not already been said? Suzanne Muchnic commented, “Her silent likenesses of fruit look so vulnerable, it seems that noise could shatter them.” Peter Clothier wrote that her early cylinders of toilet paper “were lyrical constructions exploring the interactions of light and color, edge and shadow, dimensional object and flat surface.”
David Rubin suggested that her pears were “a presence of the amorphous apparition, formed as in other elements from clusters of combusting light.” Josine Ianco Starrels pointed out that Alf’s “series of cylinder paintings are marvels of color study and her signature black and white drawings are rare achievements in classical image-making.”
And Merele Schipper has praised her, stating “On Alf’s surfaces, the pear takes on a presence that challenges both the concept of ‘contemporary’ and art history itself, in the implication of timelessness that persists even as change occurs.”.
As described in the above selections, Alf is best known for her delicate images of pears and cylinders, but not to be overlooked is her understanding of the nuance of color, and her photography.
Classical in organization, faithful in delineation of form, and Baroque in volume and richness, Alf’s art is finally very contemporary, clearly aligning itself with minimalist and light and space traditions. Her flawless craftsmanship enhances symbolic meaning that transcends the still-life genre.
Vulnerable, sensual, contemplative images magically glow from a slanted light source that dramatically emphasizes shadow. The images frequently take on human emotional states of interdependence, loneliness, love, vulnerability and grandeur. They also powerfully represent the triumph of beauty. Alf’s art hints at an enormous amount of time spent observing detail that is translated into poetic levels of meaning.
The current exhibit, titled Birdland, presents new paintings, photography, and a movie (or the same title). The group of four paintings stands apart from the rest of the work in the show, consisting of red color fields, each containing thick dabs of red paint that intimate, but don’t dilineate, a circle.
It is not surprising that for the movie Alf chooses vulnerable birds to act out life’s challenges. She has carefully documented the habits of six pairs of pigeons that came to roost next door to her studio. Like her pears and cylinders, the birds become anthropomorphic metaphors for human pursuits in their habits of nesting, mating, socializing, and establishing hierarchies. The photographs are images from the movie that are given familial titled--Mr. and Mrs. Bird, Mrs. Nest, Mr. and Mrs. Youngbird Discovering the Food Dish.
In the past, Alf’s photographs amounted to visual note-taking. Here they stand alone as documentation of careful observation. Her volumetric drawings always picked up from the sensibility of the photographs. Her romantic and dramatic, front and center presentation of images continues. This exhibit, however, indicates an evolution as she breathes greater life into these tender forms.