Conversation with Martin Payton

Photo by David Humphreys

Photo by David Humphreys

In preparation for LSU MOA’s upcoming exhibition of Martin Payton’s sculpture, curator Courtney Taylor sat down with Martin Payton to discuss his life, his experiences, and his art. Interestingly, Payton’s journey crosses paths with a few artists featured in the Reflections exhibition: John T. Scott and Charles White.

Courtney Taylor: How did you decide to attend graduate school and what drew you to Otis Institute of Art in California?

"Well I was at Xavier studying with Scott and it was time to, I came back my last year after the army and all of that and he was really pushing me to go to graduate school. Numa Rousseve, who was one of the founders of the Xavier Art Department, everybody called him prof…he was encouraging me to take a job because by then I had gotten married the first time and he was like ‘you should take this job and support your family.’

Scott pulled me aside and said, ‘no, don’t do that. You should go to graduate school.’ So, I had discovered this book called Charles White: Images of Dignity and they were just wonderful images, just exciting…so I wanted to study with him, and he was at Otis Art Institute.

I got to the Otis Art Institute and there was Charles White, but I was walking away from the figure at that time."

CT: What was making you move away from the figure?

"Just my progression through art history. I was looking at things and as an undergraduate at Xavier I was interested in documenting African American culture and life and then I run into Charles White and I see that this has been done…and it’s been done powerfully and then I thought I could get to Otis and update it and someone had already done that….

Also, after meeting Charles White, his personality was SO powerful and I realized, wait a minute, those images came out of that personality. It’s not who I am. So that made me understand that I needed to find my own voice, so I dove back into the pile. 

When I say pile…I feel that all my life I’ve been in conversation with makers…I still am. When I’m in the studio, I’m in conversation with everyone who ever made an image that I saw, and so I went back to the pile and started rummaging to find what my voice was supposed to be.”

Broken Time: Sculpture by Martin Payton opens at LSU MOA on October 19, 2017.