Born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1913, Ezio Martinelli began his formal art training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, Italy at the age of eighteen. He then continued his studies at the National Academy of Design, New York and the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania until 1940. Over the course of the next seven years, he exhibited at numerous galleries including ACA Galleries and Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery. In 1947, he started teaching at Sarah Lawrence College. There he met and befriended colleagues Theodore Roszak and David Smith. Martinelli’s artistic development coincided with a larger movement in American Art history, the emergence of Abstract Expressionism.
Martinelli, like his contemporaries Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, is associated with the first generation of “New York School” abstract artists. This first group of American Abstract Expressionists, sometimes called Action Painters, is generally split between the color-field and the gestural artists, who usurped the Surrealists’ concept of automatic art. Martinelli is considered a painter in the gestural tradition.
Although the Abstract Expressionists were the first group of American artists to dominate the international art scene, they were a loosely defined group who did not adhere to any particular style or theme. Rather, they were connected by shared philosophies, which were disseminated through avant-garde publications such as Tiger’s Eye. This group was influenced by Existentialist philosophy, which emphasized the act of creation over the product of creation. Through this, like the Surrealists, they believed that the individual subconscious could be expressed through art. They also were influenced by Jung’s theories on myth, ritual and memory and were inspired by the art of primitive cultures that were being increasingly displayed in American museums during the 1930s and 1940s.
Works by Martinelli, from the late 1940s and early 1950s, show his fully developed Abstract Expressionist style. Although highly dynamic, Martinelli’s works are carefully thought out responses to the aesthetic and philosophical questions of his time. They are well balanced and beautifully composed, but more importantly they are highly emotive. As such, they convey to us some of what was in the artist but also some of what is within us all.
“I see the artist who exists at this moment as rather a small object in an enormous universe whose role is one of making a humble contribution to the mainstream of cultural flow. This means that he respects and adores, and venerates as the Chinese did that which is old and he minimizes his own position and tries to contribute however large or small may be the contribution. For myself I venerate all of that which I am forced to call, for the sake of clarity, the past, my own Western Heritage and the even older and brilliant past of the Far East and near East and their multiple cultures. In this way I feel I pay homage to the Titan’s, both anonymous and known... I feel awed by the phenomena of nature as my eyes perceive it and my wish would be to transpose some of this awe into my work.”