Melbourne based visual artist Aaron Martin clearly loves what he does, but he certainly has his work cut out for him. When not busy with his own stuff in the studio tucked behind, Martin runs the busy Five Walls gallery, which he founded in 2012. "The gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday, but I'm here every day. It's great, but it's tiring," he smiles.
Martin seems out of place with the fast-paced Footscray bustle outside the gallery's door. He's gently-spoken and emanates an air of patience. He pulls up chairs outside Five Walls, which is currently host to Geometric Findings, a clever and beautiful collection of geometric works by Melbourne-based artist Yuria Okamura, and talks with obvious pleasure about his projects.
Already a member of the operating committee for the nearby artist-run space Trocadero, Martin set up Five Walls with the desire to offer an adjunct to Trocadero and to expand the breadth and number of interesting artists that they could show. People often travel some distance to visit the space, so part of Martin's rationale was to give them the option of seeing two or three shows at a time.
Given Martin's background in visual arts (he studied it at VCA "a while back", as he deprecatingly puts it), it only makes sense that he works with visual artists at Five Walls. Unlike Trocadero, at which the artists exhibit following a successful submission process, Martin hand picks the artists for Five Walls. Largely, he focuses on abstract painting – geometric abstractions and a lot of pared back minimalist work, all of which reflect the ethos that informs his own work. It makes sense really – display what you like and know.
Five Walls puts on 11 shows per year – basically one each calendar month, comprised of nine solo and two group shows. "A whole month devoted to one artist gives me plenty of opportunity to promote them and generate exposure," explains Martin. "That's really why I have the long showing duration, it's to give more exposure."
In fact, Martin works intensively with the artists invited to show, helping them to select their works and decide how to hang them, and then bumps them in and out.
As for Okamura's works, well, they're captivating and intricate. The works are mostly on paper, which she methodically embosses and then paints. While the works are geometric and linear, there's a beautiful dreamy element to them and they put the viewer in mind of some sort of esoteric manifesto (without being remotely hippy dippy).
Some of the works incorporate semi-precious stones – salt crystal, pyrite, obsidian. They're arranged so carefully that, together with the painted images, they suggest an ancient language. In fact, it looks like something that we should be able to decipher, but it's just beyond the edge of understanding.
Two other pieces feature tiny and repeated geometric images, which are not quite symmetrical. It'd send someone with OCD into a frenzy, but it also lends depth and a sense of perspective to the works. They're also a little reminiscent of the intricate mosaic patterns at the Paris Mosque.
There's a reason for the above. "Yuria's created her very own visual language," Martin notes. "She's drawing upon symbols and images that have been used throughout history, but she's taken them out of the ordinary context and turned them into something new. She does refer to being influenced by Islamic art, but the images are geometric and scientific and she's borrowing them from various sources. Maybe text books."
So, after this show, what's next? Martin has plenty in the pipeline for the balance of the year, including a Brett Colquhoun exhibition, in conjunction with Sutton galleries. Colquhoun's exhibition sounds beautiful, featuring little drawings of breath on a window – you get the visual reminder of the person without them being there.
Another highlight will be Allot, the annual art auction in December, which raises money for Trocadero and Five Walls. $100 buys you a ticket to the lottery – quite literally, the auction features a lottery tumbler with balls and everything. In return, winners receive art work valued in the vicinity of $500 plus from "artists with names", is how Martin puts it. In addition to being for a worthy cause, it's a gob-smackingly good deal.