Karel Martens (b. 1939) was trained as an artist but is most known as a freelance graphic designer, specializing in typography. Alongside this, he has always made non-commissioned graphic and three-dimensional work. His renowned series of monoprints are a beautiful example of this autonomous practice and a long-standing occupation.
By using ink on found metal objects (for example discarded flat car parts) different compositions are made on found index or catalogue cards. With an old bookbinders’ press, an almost daily experiment starts with colour and form, producing unique compositions that bear Martens’ unmistakable visual energy, and continuous motion.
His methods are slow but very precise; he prints one colour per day, waits for it to dry, and prints the second colour the next day. By this method, Martens’ prints may take days or weeks to be completed.
A special mention are the archival cards – which Martens found – from the Stedelijk Museum, designed at that time by Willem Sandberg who was also director of the same museum. It is Martens’ longest on-going project and it started when the catalogues in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam were being digitized and the old archive cards were being discarded. Martens have been using them as a canvas for his projects since then and each print is unique in that they are made from individual catalogue cards.
In his new series of monoprints, made from 2017 onwards, he further elaborates on a variety of abstract forms and color. Sometimes these forms were already used in the nineties – like the circle patterns or the grids – but now executed in new variations with a beautiful complexity.
Recently he also used a new material as bearer for the prints, i.e. a series of used Japanese forms, probably used for invoices, with handwritten notations and stamped in red. On the verso the ultra thin paper has a blue carbon pattern which shines through. Martens interventions make a two-dimensional gem out of an everyday object. The characteristics of the applied ink (color, thickness, transparancy, shining) and the form of the metal objects are in a superb dialogue with the underlaying material and make together a beautiful palimpsest.