Strange and powerful Statues

On July 2, 1977 by admin

The Berkshire Eagle


July 1977

Arthur Myers


At first blush , the artist and her work   seem  wholly at odds, completely out of tune with each other.

The life-size statues, hanging from the walls of an old barn converted into a studio ,are  weird, decadent  – and very powerful. They compel attention – perhaps even loathing. At least , a certain amount of disquiet. The Artist is something else entirely.

She is a blonde German Lorelei, beautiful enough to be a fashion model – which she was in Europe for a time. She is gentle, soft-spoken, sensitive , intelligent, an artist. She is domestic; she has had one husband, and him for the past 10years, and a son, Luke, 8, who stays with her in West Stockbridge while her husband toils in advertising in New York. She and her husband,  Jack Silverman,  have taken an old wreck of an 18th century house and rebuilt it into an almost-museum-like home. The very nails that they have  put into it are antique , handmade, square nails she has retrieved from old boards. She has researched other old homes – such as the Col. Ashley House- to reproduce  the structure and furnishings of the homes of early America. But her statues – which will be shown on Spring Street in Williamstown- are not genteel, not pretty, not nice. Where do these strange works of art come from, from where in the unconscious of Irena Martens (Silverman). They are , according to an artist friend of mine- Sushil Mukherjee of Lenox- in a traditional stream of German art, but they are individualized too. A clue might be that Irena Martens was born into beleaguered Hamburg, Germany, in 1941 “My father was a Craftsman in metal.” she says “ and my mother was a craftswoman in sewing . I grew up in an atmosphere of art. I was praised whenever  I did something artistic. “We lived in a two –story house in Hamburg Eagle-A-Myers#2and our house was partially destroyed  in the air raids. All the surrounding houses in this working class district were flattened. “I have memories that seem almost as though they were dreams. They go back before my conscious memory. I remember sounds. I remember the sounds of bombs. Clear memories I haven’t until later on – of ruins, and of our house, which was half burned down. I can think of the feelings of my childhood at that time – of the pain, the fear, the destruction. My son here in West Stockbridge and his friends, the children in the neighborhood, they like to go to an old dump – we have one behind our meadow.  And it reminds me of living in Hamburg as a child at that time. My mother would tell me not to go into the ruined houses – it was dangerous. But of course we children did, and we would find treasures – letters, photographs ……would fantasize who the people might have been…… “I began drawing when  very young. One time my mother  had a flower pot with tulips in it. I used to draw everything that was around. I had almost an obsession. I would spend hours on drawing. I drew the tulip from three different sides. My mother said “You did the same picture three different times”. but I said “No it’s different”. I wanted to draw the whole tulip”.

Irena went to Gymnasium, high school and became an apprentice in a Publishing House where she worked with graphics, sales promotional  brochures , advertising. She attended  art school in the evening.  “I was happy in this work” she says , “ but I wanted to leave the country. I wanted to go somewhere else. I had an opportunity to go to Italy, to Rome, and work for Alitalia, the national airline and doing the same thing – sales promotion and brochures. “In retrospect I know  that I needed  the distance . I needed to feel the difference between nations. After the war in Germany  there was a rootlessness . It was hard to form an  identity.  I did not realize it then, I just saw an opportunity for work; but now living away ,  Eagle-A-Myers#3I can understand.  While she was working for Alitalia, a friend of hers who run a modeling  agency got her into modeling and she moved to Milan – although much of her work was done in Rome  and Paris. “I began working on dolls – small dolls, about two feet high. Today they would be called soft sculpture. They are not really dolls, the sort of dolls that children play with. They were stuffed with Kapok, the way you would stuff a pillow. They were not for children. They were for people who buy art, who like something original.”

“Being a model was glamorous . I liked to wear the clothes. It was hard work, a lot of discipline. But it’s just a job that people do for a period of time. I made a lot of money- I couldn’t support myself on my dolls, so that worked out well for me.”

She had a chance to come to New York and show her dolls in a prestigious Madison avenue gallery. She married Jack Silverman, an American  who at the time was doing advertising for Alitalia. Her show was well received by the critics.

Five years ago she begun making the life size dolls that hang in her barn-studio.

She feels that these strange  dolls derive partially from her living as a child through war time destruction , but also are part of a German  artistic tradition.  But in her dolls, Irena sees also gaiety, which perhaps comes from her stay in Italy.

“The sun shines in Italy”, she says “and they are such beautiful people – so obviously beautiful. I would pick up on the beautiful textures  of fabrics and a certain gaiety.”

Irena sees humor in her  creations, but perhaps most viewers will see power and strangeness coming out of her German heritage.

And it seems to in the sculpture of Irena Martens


Sculpture Straw FigureIrena-Martens-wIrena-Martens-Pupazzo-in-Brocade

Irena-Martens-Pupazzo_with_BirdIrena-Martens-Pupazzo- 20IRENA MARTENS    Pupazzo in Satin

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