Thirty years ago the firefighter turned painter was keeping mum about his university degree as it marked him out from his peers.
As the grandson of a miner making it good as a public servant he wasn’t about to be boasting of his qualifications for fear of alienating his colleagues and being labelled the brainy one.
Now as he spends solitary hours painting in his studio his mind wanders to his lack of letters after his name like so many of his contemporaries in the art world.
Martin has always known that his creative side was there, lying dormant and waiting for the time when he could afford to indulge himself and reveal it to more than just his audience at home.
“Art really never leaves you – or at least it never left me. It was the perfect counterpoint to the stresses of working in the emergency services. To be an artist back then would have been a high-risk life but it was a great form of escape for me.
“Now it’s totally different and I have time to work out what sort of artist I am. People ask me but I don’t know. I am attempting a variety of styles – landscapes, abstract, figure
drawing and portraits. I have even just tried my hand at still life. The problem is I still don’t feel like a real artist. I still feel a bit of a fraud – more like a hobbyist.”
He even chuckles at the artists who have inspired him. He is not pretentious enough to claim it was Dali, Pollock or Rothko who empowered him.
He freely admits that as a child in the 1960s he was inspired to draw by the likes of Rolf Harris and Tony Hart.
The young Martin was pretty good at art in the classroom but being born and brought up in a coal mining community there was never even the slightest chance he might study it at A Level or make a career of it.
“I knew I was expected to get the best possible qualifications and get a job which would bring in money and a secure future for my family. My father would have had it no other way and I didn’t question it. Art wasn’t going to be an option and I just got on with it.
“After leaving college with a degree in economics I tried accountancy but I hated banking. I wanted to do something I would really enjoy and that was firefighting.
In those days no-one in the fire service had a degree – in fact I was one of only two fire service graduates in the country. It was on my records of course but the lads I worked with didn’t know. I would have been singled out so I never mentioned it. I loved the fire service and I never regretted joining it for a moment.
“When I started I don’t think I realised how rooted in the job and the life I would become. At first all I wanted to do was drive the fire engine. I did that after four years and so then I started looking for promotion.”
Before he knew it he had done his 30 years service and was eligible for retirement at the end of 2007. He was by then a senior divisional officer in South Yorkshire and now understands that although he loved being a firefighter he was exhausted and ready to give it up and try something new.
His two sons had grown up and could look after themselves and his wife Sue wanted to see a bit more of him as his working hours had become, let’s just say, a bit challenging.
“I needed a clean break and definitely haven’t looked back. I wanted to at least try and go out on my own and do art.”
It is four years since he took the plunge and in that time he has created himself a studio in the garden of his Swanwick home and started to tackle the business side of being an artist. This year he has managed to secure himself some coveted gallery space.
He says he is still genuinely amazed that there is anyone out there willing to pay for his work but grins when he talks about his recent success.
His work has already won some critical acclaim despite his lack of credentials and formal schooling in the orthodoxies of art.
His ‘First Light Dorsoduro’ was shortlisted for the Art of Giving National Art Competition at the Saatchi Gallery in 2010. His ‘Cardinal Sin Anger In Tottenham’ was shortlisted for the Saatchi Online Showdown in March this year and more recently for the National Open Art Competition. It is currently being exhibited at Leabrooks Gallery.
“That piece (inspired by the Tottenham Riots) was outside what I normally do and I was over the moon when it was picked.”
Explaining the inspiration for his work generally he said: “It is mainly form and colour but also light and atmosphere.
I’ve never really limited my subject matter – I’ve never wanted to paint any one thing more than anything else. I’m not just drawn to boats or figures or buildings. I find I am attracted from time to time to bits of all of these things. Often they are a half forgotten but persistent memory, sometimes dredged up from as long ago as my childhood.
Sometimes it is words that catch my eye. I love language and phrases. I like the area where reality becomes abstract.”
In a rare moment of self-confidence he says: “I am an instinctive painter but I think that gives me a freshness I might otherwise lack.”
He is currently working on a series of paintings with the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins. He has completed Envy and Anger with the Tottenham piece. Now he just has to find the time to finish the other five.
He also wants to take on more portraiture commissions. Until now he has mainly painted portraits for family and friends but it is an area he has enjoyed exploring.
For more information about Martin go to his website at http://www.martindavisartist.co.uk.