One afternoon, I was alone practicing different ways of mark-making. Martyka walked in and boomed: "WHEN are you going to start making some ART?"
I asked why I couldn't just keep experimenting. He said,"because you won't live that long."
It's hard to explain how someone can get under your skin so much yet feel completely lost once they're gone.
Paul Martyka was an argumentative, relentless, uncompromisingly dedicated man and teacher who set his own path and chased it to the very end.
I remember asking him about his decision to be an artist, if he felt like it was worth it, if he felt it was an honest road. He told me as you get older you stopped asking those questions as much, and then he got back to work.
The studio clock was colored hot orange between 6 and 9; its long hand had a printed blimp attached, the short hand a single match. Printmaking started promptly at 6:30pm but the man himself was on fire all hours of the day, teaching us to use the media as an investigation - a REAL thorough investigation - and our roles as artists not as decorators but honest explorers of the worlds around and inside us.
Martyka looked at your work like a gambler at the track, like he stood to lose something if the piece didn't pull through. Through the intensity of his interrogations during critique you’d think he cared more about your work than you did. He demanded more from us than we knew to give, promising we had more than we could imagine, and he brought it out of us one way or another.
His standards were sky high. I couldn’t half see them. But through countless all-nighters and the meticulousness required by the art of editioned printing, I gained something more; it was a work ethic ingrained, a newfound scrutiny of my surroundings, another level of care that I never knew before I knew Martyka.
And I didn’t like the guy half the time. He wasn’t easy to get along with: dogmatic, irritable, and quick with a quip or incomplete grade if he felt you let yourself down. In the last years of his life, I was out of touch with him, with Art, with the entire conversation that Art affords but rarely requests. Not like Martyka, at least.
But regardless how I felt, for some reason - just knowing - that no matter where I was in the world, that at 3am there would be a guy chain smoking and drinking cherry cokes and thoughtfully laying down brilliant bands of color in a small South Carolina town assured me that everything was right in the world. We were winning. Who is “we” and what was there to “win”...I don't know.
As long as Martyka was there, it felt like there was a dream alive.
The other week, I was speaking to a couple people on who they admired and looked up to. They spoke of those they’d seen online and hoped one day to meet, of Twitter-famous guys with curated feeds showcasing simple living and investment wisdom. I just thought about Martyka.
I realized that this wasn’t someone “out there” that I might one day run into but someone I’d known and grown up with, someone I leaned on and knew and no matter what - loved. How could I have been that lucky and hardly know it?
So here's to a true original, an irascible, polarizing, hilarious, beyond charming individual: the man upstairs, the anvil, the black bird, the snake, my dawg, the 33 degree buddha, Paul C. Martyka.
You are so missed.
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