Bob Marty

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  • Silent Noise, 2023 10"X10" Mixed media on panel

Bob Marty’s colorful career ranges from helping build Big Bird for Sesame Street to working on sets and props for several George Balanchine ballets to creating over 1,000 television specials for PBS and other major networks. Since 2016, Marty has been steadily winding down his television work in order to focus primarily on his art practice. For years, Marty has used text or letter forms in his art, not so much for their explicit content, like Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer, but for their gestural form and suggestive subtext. Indeed, although his studio is equipped with an arsenal of sophisticated digital technology, he frequently brainstorms new pieces by simply pushing red and blue paper strips of seemingly unrelated words into different positions to come up with enigmatic combinations like “Puzzling Noise” or “Several Silent Blurred.” This jumpstarts his process, which takes full advantage of a vast image archive, gleaned from old newspapers, magazines, and a vintage Encyclopedia Britannica, which he then plays with—-printing, over painting, drawing and collaging. “All my work is mixed media,” Marty says. “I use a transfer technique. You take a printed piece, coat it in gel, soak off the paper, and then layer it onto a painting. It allows you to build up the surface and add dimension. It’s all over these pieces. I like to do things that ‘activate the surface,’ as Rauchenberg put it.”

Marty has “activated” the surface of his most recent work with random bits of text, much of it evoking advertising from the baby boomer era. The Lichtenstein-esque OOD (2023), uses what might be the partial spelling of the word “good” (perhaps from the old Campbell soup slogan “MM Good,”) against a backdrop of ben-day dots. A related piece, Scambled (2021), plays with scrawled and jumbled letters, formed against a yellow amoeboid shape, on a blue-black background scattered with fragments of alphabet characters. Porky (2019), also employs a text-overlaying motif; its partial words are superimposed on newspaper text. Eureka Diptych (2018), blasts the viewer with a virtual explosion of fragmented texts. It pairs a white-tinted top half with a blackboard-like lower half, which mirrors the words on the top half, featuring a few familiar phrases, such as “It’s finger-lickin’ good.” One of the piece’s biggest balloon captions sums up Marty’s pastiche aesthetic: “Eureka! Success! My Imaging-Reproducer Works!”

 – Phoebe Hoban

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