Artist Deborah Martin © Victory Tischler -Blue

Artist Deborah Martin © Victory Tischler -Blue

By Steve Desroches

Volume 40 Issue #15 July 27-August 2, 2017 p 40

Eddie at Five (2017, 42 x 52”)

As an artist Deborah Martin explores the themes of isolation, home, and memory. Living in the desert town of Sky Valley, California, she’s painted the Salton Sea and the community that surrounds the inland body of water that is shrinking due to continual drought and the increased pressure on the Colorado River, as well as “Slab City,” a collection of old concrete slabs from the World War II era when the barracks of Camp Dunlap stood there. Now, it’s home to a community that abandoned traditional society in what some call “The Last Free Place in America.” Her oil paintings have also captured the empty or dying towns of the Heartland as well as the forces of erosion and development on the Outer Cape and how they can so quickly change the landscape or completely transform what was once familiar.

 Keir at Ten (2017, 42 x 52”)

In what may seem like a big departure, Martin is now working on a new artistic pursuit with Portraits of Autism, which will have its first exhibition starting this week at Art Market Provincetown Gallery (AMP).  The show features portraits of children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in this deeply personal work. For many years Martin worked with children and adults with special needs, and as an artist she wanted to draw attention to the challenges these people and their families face. In particular, she was drawn to the problem when these children turn 21 and are no longer eligible for federal support so families are forced to navigate the often confusing maze of state bureaucracy, or find that their state offers no assistance at all. In addition, people with disabilities are not often represented in many forms of media, something that is also true for fine art. Portraits of Autism provides multiple opportunities for a better understanding of autism as it presents each subject with not only a highly skilled technical ability, but a compassionate viewpoint to show each child as a complete person not only defined by their disability.

“When I’m painting the child I’m really trying to know that child,” says Martin. “I really spend time before I settle on an image. I want to bring forward something about that child, their strength, their character, as honest as possible.”

Finn at Nine (2017 42x52")

Once the idea for the project came to Martin, she allowed it to develop organically with the mindful wandering that she’s followed through her life as an artist. She found the subjects for her paintings largely through social media, or by referral from friends. Numbers fluctuate slightly, but the Center for Disease Control estimates that 1 out of every 88 children are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Family and loved ones of those with autism often form tight bonds, and Martin found many who were delighted to have their child as part of this artistic advocacy. Regardless of their current age, Martin paints the person with ASD as a young child based on submitted photos, and future paintings will feature the same subjects throughout their adolescence into adulthood.

Many of those featured in Martin’s work are non-verbal or have limited communication skills. This, matched with an ignorance of what autism is and what it means, can isolate those with the disorder and those who love and take care of them, which is again, that theme that is so often the focus of Martin’s artistic viewpoint. The general unawareness of autism can often lead to fear or discomfort, which is in part why a show like this can give the viewer an opportunity to explore their own feelings and knowledge of the disorder with the space for introspection, while also experiencing a deep connection as Martin presents each child with an intensity and intimacy. Throughout their lives, people can lack understanding and view those with autism as “rude,” “mentally ill,” or “dangerous,” says Martin. But the more one is educated, compassion grows, anxiety dissipates, and society expands to make room for those previously pushed aside.

“This project is much more than this first show,” says Martin. “It’s the very beginning and I thought Provincetown would be a welcoming place to start.”





Deborah Martin turns to ethereal abstraction to express the emotional experience of autistic children and the people closest to them.

"In the portrait, titled Potential, Finn sits in the shallow water, responsive to the swirling tide yet disconnected from his surroundings. Several feet away, his 10-year-old sibling swims confidently into the deep. Martin’s intuitive understanding of autism stems from years of working with special-needs children during college and an enduring relationship with a close friend who struggles with this complex spectrum disorder. The families committed to the project span the country. Through social media, Martin keeps track of each child and his or her support system. “When an image or a story speaks to me, I begin to envision how to represent that family’s experience.”

Mona De Crinis  Palm Springs, CA

Full Article: ARTS+CULTURE Palm Springs Life Magazine Winter/Spring, 2015



Deborah Martin Slab City Trailers, 2015 Oil on canvas 48 x 48"

Deborah Martin's Newest Series Continues to Illuminate the Uncanny in America's Outback

"Walt Whitman wrote in the preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, “The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” This theme manifests throughout the work of Deborah Martin who conveys the essence inherent within marginalized communities that exist on the fringes of American society...In the same vein as Whitman, Martin’s strength lies in her objective point of view, which she uses to expose what Chris Busa describes as the “unselfconscious attitudes of strange places where people have made themselves comfortable.”

Anise Stevens, Los Angeles

Full Review: AEQAI MAGAZINE  Los Angeles June, 2015

Deborah Martin Yellow Trailer, 2011 Oil on canvas 48 x 48"

Deborah Martin Uncanny Luminosity

"In the last five years, Deborah Martin has concentrated on painting local habitations far removed from mainstream America, yet evoking quintessential core values in our national psychology. She manages to avoid a voyeuristic curiosity while honestly exposing unselfconscious attitudes of strange places where people have made themselves comfortable... Martin is something of an archivist, seeking out stories lost in time…motivated by the jumble of memory, wanting some confusion to activate her emotion."

Chris Busa, Provincetown

Full Review: Provincetown Arts Magazine 2014/15 pp 77-79


Art Exhibition Speaks for the Salton Sea

Martin contextualizes The Salton Sea: Lost in Paradise with memorabilia from the collection of the late Jennie Kelly, a passionate advocate for the Salton Sea and its history who founded the Salton Sea History Museum that was originally located inside of the North Shore Yacht Club.

Steven Biller is editor of Palm Springs Life ART+CULTURE and a contributing writer for art ltd.

Full Article: Laquinta Arts Foundation

Biller on Art: Springtime Desert Expressionism

"Over the past 30 years, however, interest in works by Wendt, Edgar Payne, Guy Rose, Maurice Braun, and others has increased in lockstep with American art in general. And many notable paintings depict the Palm Springs and the surrounding desert towns. Today, the Impressionist tradition continues with desert landscape painters such as Mary-Austin Klein, William Scott Jennings, Deborah Martin, Niles Nordquist, Andrew Dickson, and others."

Steven Biller  Palm Springs, CA

Full Article: LAQUINTA ARTS FOUNDATION  October 5, 2015

Deborah Martin PINK, 2013 Oil on canvas 36 x 36"

A Hushed Reverence: Deborah Martin Shows Provincetown in Magical Light

"While Martin has been compared to Truro’s Edward Hopper and Maine’s Andrew Wyeth, her brushwork has an open, flowing spontaneity; still, her subject has much in common with painters whose melding of landscape and structure offer a template for isolation and separation.

Martin’s paintings share Hopper’s sense of mystery: scenes tiptoe close enough to their off-balance subjects without intruding. In the desert paintings, Martin’s interest is what is lost when hardscrabble land attracts a developer’s eye; in her “Narrow Lands” series, a soft palette intimates the loss of the built environment, abandoned or gentrified into oblivion."

Susan Rand Brown

Full Review:   Provincetown Banner, 2013


Art Talk: Chris Busa Interviews Realist Painter Deborah Martin


"Deborah Martin's starkly rendered yet emotionally evocative paintings convey something of the hardscrabble pride in the townspeople's souls...."

Shana Nys Dambrot, Los Angeles

Deborah Martin Slab City Chairs, 2010 Oil on canvas 36 x 36"


"Deborah Martin is blessed with a technique that allows her to portray space and the things in it with a quavering, almost feverish luminosity as she trains her eye on all forms of the American outback.

Martin is probably best known for her paintings of the blasted communities that surround the Salton Sea. But she paints other parts of the California desert as well, and has also painted the rural American south, the nether parts of Cape Cod, and other places in this country where society dissolves and individuals find solitude whether or not they seek it.

What interests Martin – whose pictures are full of human presence but devoid of humans – is not the mundane or the abject, but how habitation seems only to amplify the emptiness of the land itself. In this respect she extends Edward Hopper’s lonely realms into the context of “new topographic” photography".

-Peter Frank, Fabrik Magazine, Los Angeles

"Martin’s noirish and oddly poignant images offer a hauntingly intimate elegy for small town American roadsides, refracted through a grim cataract of muffled sunlight, dusty colors, and bleached, exhausted exposures. Her vacant neighborhoods suggest a peaceful, bucolic apocalypse in which human abandonment is perhaps as much blessing as curse.

Her work dwells within a compositional formality – a visitor’s sidewalk stance that captures the essentially public vista of driveway, yard, front porch – yet her portraitist’s eye conjures an emotional complexity nearly operatic in scope: within the silent, vacant architecture, human drama seems to exist more powerfully in allusion."

Quintan Ana Wikswo, Los Angeles

It seems to me that Home is a lot like Love. No amount of poetry, music, art, life, death, or disappointment will ever suffice to complete the catalog of its permutated meanings—which won’t stop anyone from trying. It literally means something absolutely different to each living creature, and without ideas like Home, Love, and even God, there’d be no paintings, no pop music, and no novels.

Home, again like Love, is an emotion as well as a social construct, a place to leave, return to, miss, defend, dream of, or destroy. It’s a place of specificity, but does it even have to be a place at all? It can be a person (parent, lover, pet) or an illusion, or a karmic goal-post that keeps moving. It’s often aspirational, symbolizing achievement, security, and retreat.

But even with the endless catalog of definition, prayer, fixation, metaphor, image, symbol, myth, purchase, and confession, human nature will endlessly prompt us to add to the archive. For every poet and painter—and for that matter every living person—believes themselves capable of shedding new light and adding new insight to our soul-situation. And they are right.

The residents of the settlements flanking California’s Salton Sea—an artificial lake intended as a desert oasis resort that quickly became a toxic, calcified symbol of catastrophe—think they live in an Earthly Paradise. They are proud to call it Home, and are busy making improvements, landscaping, and building baseball parks. It’s a salt-flat with dilapidated, sagging structures lining empty streets, paint peeling away in the sun, devoid of apparent activity. Its short, blacktop roads all lead to a lakeshore, the sandy beaches of which are littered with sunken vehicles and the skeletons of four-eyed fish. And as for front lawns, well, you can’t grow plastic grass...

Martin’s work is a kind of interpretative documentation; she stays true to the reality of her selected places. In addition to the Salton Sea sequel, she’s currently at work on a series about Cape Cod’s Narrowlands—a more vegetated but no less remote “vacation” destination less about the desert and more about vines, nature’s reclaiming of the cultivated, the process of decay, and the beauty in the breakdown.

Shana Nys Dambrot, Los Angeles

"...Deborah is a force of nature to be reckoned with, and a hell of a painter."

Ted Quinn. Z 107.7 FM , Joshua Tree

"Poised in an arid netherworld between strip malls and car lots, Wonder Valley lies just beyond the vacant, shuttered stare of the American Dream. Commercialism gnaws at the edges of this desert mountain wilderness - its embattled landscape of ragged palms, mountains, and eroding homestead cabins provides austere refuge to semi-nomadic enclaves of fringe-toed lizards, kangaroo rats, idiosyncratic visionaries and anachronistic loners.

Boom Boom, 2011 Wonder Valley, CA  Oil on canvas 36 x 36 inches

In Back of Beyond, Martin immortalizes a 21st century desert struggle against destruction, and her lamentation for the disappearing landscape is also a praise song to the improbable power of endurance, tenacity, and longing.

Painter Deborah Martin has established a compelling dominion as portraitist of an archaic America – ravaged sites and forgotten wastelands that nonetheless resist destruction. Her luminous paintings and photographs reveal the beauty in the bleak, and speak to the tenuous balance between home, depravation, isolation, community and hope."

Quintan Ana Wikswo

"Deborah Martin's starkly rendered yet emotionally evocative paintings convey something of the hardscrabble pride in the townspeople's souls...."

Shana Nys Dambrot,  Blue Canvas Magazine, Los Angeles

Selected External Links

Painter's Table, 2015

Art Ltd. Magazine Biller. Steven, Palm Springs and The High Desert: It's a Dry Heat, January 2013 pp. 12–16

Artweek LA Deborah Martin, Back of Beyond, October 12, 2012

Artweek LA  Deborah Martin: Home on the Strange: In Search of the Salton Sea, January 14, 2012

Palm Springs Life Magazine Japenga, Ann. The New Sublime June 2011 pp. 22–25

New American Paintings Magazine Pacific Coast #85, 2009