by Sandra Marshall
It was a steel wire sculpture made by eight-year old Bastien Martel that set his future direction in art. A camp project of twisting wire into a three dimensional figure was a revelation that he could not forget. His journey in education and art subsequently took many twists and turns – business school, wood working, furniture design and production, painting, drawing and sculpture all had important lessons for him as they lead him from Montreal to Victoriaville, Toronto and then to Honolulu.
2003 was a turning point in his life, when Bastien left his day job to attend the Saidye Bronfman School of Fine Arts in Montreal where he connected with two mentors who encouraged him to continue his passion in the arts and sculpture: Bastien was selected as sculpture studio assistant under France Andrée Sevillano. Eventually, he was invited to work for Jean-Louis Emond in his Montreal studio. 2003 was the start of his professional sculpture practice.
Bastien considered welding classes and programmes but they all seemed too long and involved at the time. It is when he joined Jean-Louis in his studio in Montreal that he had the opportunity to discover metal cutting and welding. It was the perfect opportunity to learn sculptural skills. It also led to discussions: What is art? What makes someone an artist? What does being an artist entail? Bastien was exposed to the many facets of the art world. New techniques were tried –
J-L Émond had been using clay to work with steel for a long time. It is this technique that Bastien adopted to create the desired 3D shapes, in both small and large format. As experience accrued, his rough sculptures became more polished and detailed.
Martel has worked with wood and stone but found both unforgiving materials. Steel allows him to rapidly create an image and it easily accepts additions or reductions. Steel has the strength to tolerate the abuse of the journey. Bastien’s experience in furniture production and design taught him design concepts, preparation work, planning, measurements and inventory. But mostly it confirmed his love of steel and metals.
For Bastien, all visual imagery – from nature to comic books, billboards, commercial and industrial design, architecture and artwork- influence our creative choices as we live in a visually busy world. He has had the pleasure and privilege to visit art museums in Toronto, Montréal, Honolulu, Italy, France and New York City. Seeing other artist’s works always propels his desire to create his own work. It is his continuation of the visual conversation with contemporaries and artists of the past.
In recent years Bastien has explored the breakthroughs of 20th centrury modernist painters using contemporary 3D welded steel. He continues the tradition of objets d’art.
His steel sculptures give him the ability to create volume, lightness and airiness. He cuts steel into various shapes and assembles them like a 3D jigsaw puzzle onto clay forms which he models. Then he welds the pieces together. With a grinder Bastien continues to dig, shape and smooth the surface. The sculpture is completed once it is polished and painted.
Beyond the actual pleasure of creating a unique object, Bastien’s attraction to his method is the hands-on experience: creating the clay shapes, shaping the metal pieces, and finally welding, grinding and shaping to realise the completer piece. The least pleasurable for him is the applying of protective coating, which demands more precision and attention.
Bastien usually starts with an image in his head that fluctuates and only seems to settle once the work starts. That is why he has no sketches, just a few guiding scribbles. The piece takes shape as the material and physical constraints slowly limit choices. Meaning usually comes after completion of the piece, but it is not always that which brings it forth. Over time pieces seem to fall into categories: bowler hats as a symbol of anonymity and conformity; abstraction as emotional expression; homage in portraits of struggling artists. They all seem to reflect sentiments of existential struggle and the challenges of being.
The work offers many directions for Bastien to explore. He believes that artists can work till their lives end, for there is always work to be done, imagination endless. “We can imagine the smallest particles to the whole universe or even multiple universes. It is our physical state, time and materials that limit us.”
Bastien recently completed series of figurative, portrait and surrealist sculptures, exploring themes of loneliness and isolation. His current exploration is abstraction. He was looking for a quick creative release for feelings of anxiety and confusion created by our imposed Covid confinement. He delved into these emotional states using his clay work technique with welded steel pieces, using the differently shaped metal pieces as his color palette. Between chaos and control, the variously shaped pieces were dropped or thrown onto the clay surface and welded together, in gesturally expressive abstract sculptures.
For others who may wish to take up sculpture, Bastien encourages a studio-based education through college or university, including large components of business management. He recommends this to be followed by apprenticeship with an established artist. There are so many hats an artist must wear and so many skills required for success.
Bastien Martel’s work can be seen on his website at www.bastienmartel.com, as well as the National Capital Network of Sculptors Facebook page, and at www.sculptureottawa.ca. He also exposes at the Canadian Sculpture Center in Toronto. He has many exhibitions and prizes for his art, but due the Covid pandemic, his next 2020 exhibitions have been postponed. However, sculpture lovers should keep these venues in mind: Intermède, Arts Network Exhibition Space, Ottawa; Tension, Eugene-Racette Art Gallery, Ottawa; Da Artisti Studio & Gallery, Cumberland Village.