An Artist's Heart, A Scientist's Mind
A Christmas Card Beginning
Okay, I'm not a famous artist. Through one of my personal websites, I kept getting emails from owners of "Carl Martin" watercolors asking if I'm him. I'm not. I've never been very good at watercolor, though I admire the skill and the patience required.
Art influences everything I do, and many things have influenced my art.
This lifetime, I started as an artist at age 3. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the pleasant, cozy smells of the babysitter's house and the living room arranged around the RCA television. I remember the large, brass bed where all of the other kids and I would take our afternoon naps. I remember how dismayed I was when the RCA box showed pictures advertising some other brand of television, and how right it seemed when the box advertised itself—the RCA brand. As a three-year-old, that seemed less hypocritical to me. And, in 1953, television was a strange new invention for most folk.
I remember when I first met the elderly Mrs. Andrews. She handed me a Christmas card, paper and a pencil and said, "Here, draw this exactly as it is." What a neat trick in how to keep a new ward busy and out of your hair for awhile—a long while. That card kept me enthralled for what seemed to this young child an eternity. I studied that card and its artwork—the lit candle with bright flame, dripping wax, bright red ribbon, pine needles, holly berries and leaves. Remarkably, I could duplicate that drawing for years afterward, with some variations, of course. For friends and family, I have done crayon drawings of it, pencil renditions and even a woodcut and block printing version. I thank Mrs. Andrews for helping me hone my skills of observation.
My Grandfather's Church
Also when I was three, I remember being taken to see my grandparents on my Mom's side. Granddad was a Southern Baptist Minister. I remember how the church pew was too wide for my small body. Sitting with my back supported against the seat, my legs were cut into by the edge of the seat just above my Achilles tendon. If I sat forward, I was uncomfortable from the lack of support so far from the back of the seat. I thought I had found a good solution when I sat back and placed my feet up on the seat, but my mother would have none of that.
I remember spotting a cute redhead in the choir. I was embarrassed that she might see me looking at her, fascinated with her seemingly familiar beauty. It seemed all beautiful women were familiar, but I was too shy to admit it. If she glanced in my direction, I would move my head behind one of the adults sitting in front of me. Imagine that! Me going for an older woman of 19!
Later that same evening, I remember being taken to one of the auxiliary buildings of my grandfather's church. It was a small meeting room which could seat twenty or thirty. And I remember that they showed a short film advertising the Shell Oil Company. What else would it be about in Texas, but oil? In the film, one scene showed a man in a business suit jumping off of a moving train. I thought that was peculiar. When they ran the film backwards, everyone laughed throughout. But when the scene of the man in the business suit came, I was electrified by the unreal levitation of the man jumping backwards onto the train. That evening, something clicked. I can thank the projectionist for helping me see the value of thinking "outside the box." Running that film backwards gave me a different perspective on the possibilities in life.
Dreams of Flying
Throughout much of my childhood, I had a few recurring dreams. One of them involved flying without physical assistance. In each dream, the feeling was that the method of flight was now suddenly obvious and somehow effortless. The knowledge seemed ancient, but familiar. With bliss, I floated high in the air. It seemed entirely natural. Then, each time in this dream, I would find doubt creeping into my thoughts. I would start to descend, losing my ability. Below, a dark mass of writhing forms, claws with sharp talons reached up to clutch at my heels. I would always wake up, my legs kicking frantically to keep from being consumed by the monsters, below. I can thank whatever the source of that dream for my first inkling of the difference between doubt and faith.
When I was six, we lived in Ft. Stockton, West Texas. The street we lived on was dusty and edged with tumbleweeds. Dry, semi-desert mountains lined the horizon. First grade at Alamo Elementary School was a short walk away. I remember Mrs. Wales class well. I remember her gray hair and round, smiling face. I remember how the alphabet chart above the blackboard seemed foreign. I don't know what I was expecting. Perhaps Chinese characters?
Even before I started school, my favorite television program was "Rocky Jones Space Ranger." And school became my space academy. Here, I would learn the things I needed to grow up and be like Rocky, my hero. To my dismay, every afternoon after lunch, we were told to take a nap. A nap! Why were we required to take a nap? I was no longer a baby. I was a young man—a space cadet, at least in my imagination.
On the side of my paper, I would draw circles representing planets. On each planet, I would draw large, conical bumps representing mountains, and small, hair-like ticks representing people, climbing up the mountains on one world, reaching across and climbing down the mountains on the adjacent world. Space travel was very much on my mind in 1956.
The Spark of Creativity
In my coloring book, I would shade the faces of the children with my red crayon. I knew that children's faces were not red, but there was a little red in them. Flesh, at least for everyone I knew, was pinkish in color. And our coloring palette contained only eight colors. Lightly raking the crayon across the paper achieved this color. Everyone around me merely laughed and pointed, "Rodney's making their faces red! How silly!" I felt the sting of ego revolting against their taunts. (Yeah, Rodney is my first name—Rodney Carl Martin, Jr.)
On other occasions, I told stories to my fellow students. I did not yet know the genre of science fiction, but I felt it in my blood. I felt the adventure of travel to other worlds and the challenges of facing unknown peril. One of the girls in my class, Mary, grew afraid of my stories and told the teacher. Mrs. Wales pulled me aside and demanded that I not tell such stories in class.
A few days later, during recess, I had a new story to tell, and not being in class, I told it to one of the boys. Alas, Mary overheard. After recess, Mrs. Wales called me to the front of the class. From there, I was escorted into the restroom. With door closed, the teacher administered corporal punishment, beating my little butt raw. In minutes, I was walking home, dreading the world around me and carrying a note to my mother pinned to my chest. This was my first curiously ironic taste of being victim—a lesson, the value of which it would take half a century for me to appreciate. Both victim and perpetrator are partners in a dance of karma and ego. The best we can do is to be grateful and forgiving. Any resentment only feeds ego. I thank Mrs. Wales for helping me learn this, most valuable lesson.
A Gift of Kindness
Halfway through the school year, Humble Oil (later called Exxon) transferred my father from West Texas to Klamath Falls, Oregon. All I had known of the world was dusty sagebrush and tumbleweeds. This new land was lush, the skies heavily laden with moist vessels dripping their cargo on verdant hills. The eyes and the soul soaked up this landscape as if to quench an ancient thirst.
Mrs. Young was a different kind of first grade teacher. First of all, it seemed curiously appropriate that she be named "Young." She was not nearly as old as Mrs. Wales. In fact, she seemed about the same age as my mother, in her mid-20's. I continued to have difficulty with the alphabet and reading. Even such simple words as "it" and "is" were easily confused by young Rodney's mind. And yet, Mrs. Young noticed that the poorest student in the reading circle, stood light years ahead of the entire class in math. Calculations were my language. Logic was my game. But reading was vital to my future.
My new teacher sent me home with a note. This time, the academic missive bore tidings of concern, but also generosity, instead of resentment. Mrs. Young volunteered to tutor me after class, one-on-one, to get me over the hump in learning to read. My simple, six-year-old mind did not understand. Somehow, I thought I was being punished. My friends all left school each day, leaving me behind to suffer more lessons.
How often do we not appreciate a gift when it is being given? Sometimes, only later do we really learn its value. I thank Mrs. Young for the gift of reading—a skill that seemed to falter at the start of my education.
When we moved back to West Texas, we lived for awhile in Monahans. The summer proved to be idyllic with frequent picnics to the West Texas sand dunes—towering mountains of pale yellow grit—part of a Paleolithic beach, now hundreds of miles from the sea. A thin slab of cardboard and a quick run up the hill led to a forty foot slope of sledding bliss. For children who had never known snow sledding, this was a delightful substitute. Afterward, we would roast hot dogs, dip them in mustard-filled buns, and then chase them with toasted marshmallows. The trick was to peal off a layer of burnt sugar, and thrust the marshmallow back into the flame for another roast. One brother said he had made seven passes through the flame with one marshmallow. Personally, I think he miscounted.
That October, after school had started, I remember the electrifying bulletin delivered by Douglas Edwards on the CBS Evening News. The Russians had launched a satellite into space, orbiting our planet Earth. The sound of it overwhelmed me. It swept over my young mind like an alien invasion. I couldn't bear to look at the television. Instead, I walked to the side and slightly behind the set, still intoxicated by the message, soaking up every morsel of deliciously exciting, but dangerous news. Humanity's age of space had begun. The dreams of being a space cadet were a fresh wound in my mind.
A few evenings later, when mother had yelled at me for some minor indiscretion, I went into our small back yard, looked into the night sky and wondered when they would come take me home. I seemed to be an alien on Earth—a stranger in a strange land.
A Gift of Forgiveness
Ever since I was four years old, I had nurtured a running feud with my younger brother, Larry. He was outgoing and I was shy, plus I had possessed enough ego to make bruising it almost impossible to avoid. For several years, this frequently led to trouble and that meant a visit by the leather strap. Sitting down afterwards became a fine art.
By the time I was 9, we had lived in Odessa, Texas for about a year. My father had quit working for Humble-Exxon, and had started working for El Paso Natural Gas, heading up the chemical troubleshooting lab at their refinery just outside of town. As with many modern work places, the talk amongst the guys usually centered on sports, cars or girls. My father, though, liked to talk about philosophy and dreams. One of his coworkers suggested a book that might be to his liking—Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. This book was about the mind and how to heal the present by releasing the force of past trauma impinged on the present. It all sounded pretty boring to me.
The mind was not the only subject my father studied. One week, he might be reading about the reincarnation of a yoga, another he might pour over the Bhagavad-Gita, and another he might read the life story of Edgar Cayce, America's sleeping prophet. All of this non-Christian, extracurricular activity had begun to create tension between him and my mother, who was very much the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister.
The Art of Forgiveness
In 1977, Rod Martin, Jr. experienced a series of miracles. All of them were profound. One of them was visible to thousands of others and comparable to that of Moses parting the sea. From this, Martin learned the secret of forgiveness.
Then one afternoon, my mother developed an agonizing earache. We were not rich, by any means, and a doctor visit would have put our household in serious financial jeopardy. A young family with their first-ever mortgage, car payments and everything that goes with raising four voracious boys, made such visits a luxury tantalizingly out of reach.
When my father got home, he asked my mother if she wanted the earache to go away. She looked at him as if he had insulted her. Keep this? Are you kidding? My father suggested Dianetic counseling to find the source of the energy impinging on her ear. It all sounded pretty hokey, but after several hours of excruciating pain and no other simple options, she reluctantly submitted to this voodoo which had ensnared her husband.
Several hours went by. My brothers and I fended for ourselves, fixing sandwiches for our own dinner. We wondered how our mother was doing, and wondered what strange things our father was doing that took so long.
When finally our mother emerged from their bedroom, she looked like a different woman. Her face glowed with a radiance we had never seen. She seemed serene—almost angelic. The pain had gone—erased when the source of the engramic force had been found. Only much later did I realize that a wise man had said long ago that finding the truth of anything would set you free. Our mother seemed free of much more than the one earache.
The next day, my brothers and I were called into the living room. "Front and center!" came the command. We were all shaking in terror, anticipating that one of us—perhaps all of us—would fall victim to the leather strap once again. My bottom felt tingly at the prospect of mountains of pain cracking into that tender, naked flesh. Terror had each one of us looking at the floor for some solace and perhaps some borrowed innocence.
My father seemed entirely too happy. When he motioned to my mother and pointed to the belt hook in the hall, my heart sank with dread at the coming trauma. I couldn't remember having done anything wrong recently, but that had not stopped the buckle-less belt before.
What my father said next stung my mind as if beaten senseless. The world changed around that one moment, and memory recorded it in that place reserved for life altering events. "I want to apologize to each of you," he said. "What I have read recently has taught me what pain can do to each of you. In the future, I will no longer use pain to talk to you. I will talk to you as one human to another, but I will expect you to listen. Listen to me. Listen to your mother. Agreed?"
I do not know how each of us mustered the strength to nod, but we did. And promptly, my father dropped the well-worn leather strap into the living room wastebasket.
This was followed by a lot of hugging and tears. This one act would not make us perfect, but it changed us forever.
A few minutes later, after quiet reflection about the change in my life, I remembered my longstanding feud with Larry. Ego is a formidable monster to overcome, especially for a young boy with no training in such things, but the momentum of the moment helped me subdue that monster. I asked my brother to follow me into the back yard. There, under bright blue Texas skies, dotted with brilliant, white clouds, I asked my younger brother to forgive me. I told him that whatever he decided, I was no longer going to fight him. And for the first time that I can remember, we embraced as brothers.
After more than half a century, we remain close friends and brothers in every sense of the word. I thank my late father for the gift of forgiveness and for my first real command over ego.
Whistling Up the Wind
West Texas is frequently hot during the summer. That's no surprise. Most afternoons, as a boy, I would play in my back yard with toys or one project or another. Quite often the air remained still and the heat seemed to smother everything around me. I found myself developing a habit when the heat became too oppressive. I would whistle—a low, hollow sound which rose and fell, like the forlorn howl of an arctic storm. I could feel the chill. The hairs on my arms would immediately stand on end.
Moments later, I would find myself in a semi-trance, feeling the space around me—holding in my mind the trees, the neighborhood and sky. Within my thoughts, I would move and the world with me. In short order so would the wind. Then, I would look up at the sky and offer my thanks.
Painting My Soul
When I was twelve, I graduated grade school. The school district sent a letter to my parents encouraging them to enroll me in advanced mathematics in Junior High School. My father, however, had spent the last year teaching high school so that he would have the summer free to look for a job in the DC area. He was on a spiritual quest and wanted to study at the main Scientology center, there.
When I started seventh grade, my mother showed the letter to the admissions director, but found that everyone took this kind of math in Montgomery County, Maryland. Suddenly, school was not easy any more. Of course, it did not take me long to catch up. My grades quickly improved.
While we lived in Bethesda, I enlarged my artist's skills with a paint-by-number set. Paint-by-numbers? One of the grandparents thought they were doing me a favor, but it wasn't until I had my own blank canvas and set of oils and brushes that I felt I had arrived as an artist.
Over a period of five years, I did several landscapes and a few spacescapes—pictures of alien worlds.
In my senior year of high school, I took evening classes at the Scientology center in the nation's capital. For the most part, this did not affect my grades, but for English Literature, my scholastic marks plummeted. I made my first ever "D's." The class required large amounts of reading outside of class and time spent memorizing works like Shakespeare's Sonnet 116. In time, I had three of the big "D's," all in the same class. With mid-term exams coming up, I told my parents my concerns for doing well. They arranged for spiritual counseling. I was hoping they would suggest that I take no more evening classes, but I was shy about suggesting it. Besides, what could talking to a counselor do? Then I remembered what happened after my mother's ear ache so many years earlier. Okay, why not?
I had no idea how this counseling stuff was going to help, but I found myself willing to try anything. A couple of weekend sessions is all I received. The end result seemed nice enough, but the true test was in my English Lit. class. There, my mind soaked up the review material like the proverbial sponge. My thinking processes seemed to be turbo-charged. When the grades came in, the teacher announced that I was the only one with an "A." The semester averaged out to a "C"—a letter grade I had not received in years. As it was, I graduated just barely in the top ten percent of my class.
"February 1, 1968," is the date on the back of the canvas board of the 9" x 12" painting entitled, "Guadelupe Peak" (seen at the top of this article). Originally, this was painted for my paternal grandparents. When they passed away, the painting made its way back to me. Painstakingly, I had copied the colors and form from a photograph my grandparents had supplied me. The scene—the tallest point in Texas, near the New Mexico border. In the foreground of that photo stood a roadside picnic table. This was not what I wanted for my foreground. I asked my grandparents if they had any other pictures from the same region which I could use to develop a foreground more worthy of my efforts. They did, and I took the colors of brush and rock to design a pleasing arrangement.
Climbing the Mountain
As a young adult, I found a number of unrelated jobs, but always seemed to gravitate back toward art and graphics. Hollywood, California seemed the right place, too. I continued to produce my space paintings, plus did freelance illustration. Some pen and ink, other work in pencil or charcoal, and sometimes mixed media.
In 1977, I remember asking my older friend, John Jones (penname, John Dalmas—a prolific, and moderately popular science fiction author) to catch a movie with me. I had seen the advertisements on television, but they were text-only teasers about some galaxy far, far away. Anything to do with space caught my interest. It was showing at the world-famous Mann's Chinese Theater, on Hollywood Boulevard. If you don't recognize the theater name, it is also called Grauman's Chinese. Still doesn't register? It's the one where famous movie stars from more than half a century have placed their hand and foot prints in cement.
We got to the theater shortly after five in the afternoon. We had driven separately from our individual workplaces. Surprisingly, the line at the ticket booth was less than a dozen deep. Inside however, the theater was packed. We were lucky to find two seats together. The opening scene had me melting in my chair—overwhelmed by the realism of a starship flying overhead, dangerously close. That moment, I was hooked on Star Wars. So was the nation. Time Magazine rated it the years best movie. This one film changed the genre forever.
Some images from the past never leave you. One that lingers in my mind is the memory of my drawing in first grade of planets with oversized mountains which allowed travel between planets. In 1977, I climbed a different kind of mountain which led me to a different kind of world.
In that year, I found a spiritual breakthrough. I had experienced dozens of spiritual breakthroughs in my life, but this one remains the crown jewel of them all. On the way to pick up my wife from work, late one afternoon, I found myself contemplating the mechanics of creation and the foundations of reality. I pictured my path opening up and within seconds, two miles of thick, rush hour traffic parted like Moses parting the sea. This Miracle on Wilshire Boulevard will forever define my life.
In early 1978, I received a phone call from a gallery owner who wanted to give me a one-person show of my art. This was my first big breakthrough. I was in shock and glee for days. Allegra Design resided in the prestigious Bonaventure Hotel, downtown Los Angeles. The thought of a show there being dedicated to me and only me had my head swelling to galactic proportions. The gallery owner asked if I had enough canvases for the show. I said that I did not, but that I could borrow some from customers I knew well, and that I could paint the complement.
As I sat down at my drawing table, I felt a dread cover me like the wing of oblivion. Suddenly, my mind was blank. I had no idea what to paint. I was suffering the painter's equivalent of "writer's block."
Not one to give in to panic, I grabbed my sketchpad and starting drawing things in my environment—the toaster in the kitchen, a chair in the living room, a lamp, a ball and more. This technique I've come to call, "priming the pump." And it worked. In short order, I had more ideas than I could have ever painted.
The hotel management was not too cooperative and supportive of the businesses renting space under its distinctive cylinders of glass. That's a shame. It could have been a win-win situation for everybody. Still, I sold a few paintings. The gallery had made some money, and I had gained a professional feather in my cap.
A Taste of New York, a Bump with Hollywood
I had long enjoyed science fiction, and had, since I was eight, fancied myself as a writer. While it is true, I had quite an imagination, it was not enough to pull together a professional story which would interest publishers. My friend John "Dalmas" Jones talked about one of my story ideas and asked if he could help. I jumped at the chance. I hoped I could learn enough to bring my writing up to professional standards.
And it was fun seeing my idea blossom into a published novel. In August, 1983, Touch the Stars: Emergence was published by Tor Books, New York—an original novel by John Dalmas and Carl Martin. A few years later, John co-authored another science fiction novel with my father, Rod Martin, called, The Playmasters, published by Baen Books, New York.
I asked the publisher how much it would cost to buy 50 copies of the novel so I could give them to family, friends and some professionals there in Hollywood. I never received a number, but I did receive a box with 50 copies. I let some Hollywood types read the book, but, according to them, it did not lend itself to a movie script.
Then, I remembered my first grade teacher, Mrs. Young. I sent a copy to her with a "Thank You" autograph for her helping me learn to read so many years before.
Touch the Stars: DIASPORA
Even before the novel was published, but after the writing had been completed, I received a phone call from a friend, George Mather, who wanted to know if I would like to do some paintings for a short film. It wouldn't be union work, but it might help lead to such union work in the future. "Sure," I said. I was thrilled. George had been the special effects supervisor on the original Star Wars. In some respects, I thought I had found heaven.
The film ended up being a thirty-minute short called, "Quest," based on a story by the world-renowned writer, Ray Bradbury. The producers were two-time Academy Award winning designer Saul Bass and his wife, Elaine. Mr. Bass proved to be demanding about the work I did, but he was a particularly nice guy. A few months after finishing the artwork I did for the film, I was driving along Sunset Boulevard, near Highland, and heard someone say, "Oh, hello!" I turned to my left and saw Saul Bass smiling back at me from a brand new convertible being driven by a lovely young blonde. I'm guessing she was his daughter, because his wife was a lovely older blonde. I was surprised Mr. Bass even remembered me. It was doubly nice of him just to say "hello" there in traffic.
Working in Hollywood, it proves difficult not to run into a celebrity on occasion. When I worked for Hillside Graphics and Typesetting in the 1980s, Canon Films I believe had the two top floors of the same building. From the ninth floor where I worked, you could see the ocean. And, on really clear days after a rain, when the wind kept the air clear, you could see several channel islands, including Catalina.
One day, coming back from lunch, I waited in the lobby for an elevator. When the door opened I saw someone familiar smiling back at me. My mind raced while I smiled back. Where do I know him from? High school? An earlier job? From church? My mind was not fast enough. By the time I had pressed "9" and the elevator had started up, I realized that my long lost friend did not know me at all. He was a very friendly celebrity named Jeff Bridges.
Other times, we run into people who may not be celebrities, but they prove to be far more important in our lives. Just down the hall from my office, stood a business which sold radio advertising time. One of the young men working there stopped by our open door one day. Business was momentarily slow, so I struck up a conversation with him. In short order, the topic had migrated to philosophy and spirituality. With a gleam in his eye, he held up a finger, said "wait a minute," and disappeared into his office.
When he returned, he was carrying a photocopied article called, "The Rainmaker Principle." It looked to be a chapter from a book, and it proved to be solid gold. It told how a monk would be called to a poor town suffering from drought, so that the town could recover with much needed rain. After arriving, the monk would appear to do nothing out of the ordinary. He would make himself some tea. He would take the rice offered him by the townspeople, and he would wash clothes. The next day, he would meditate for a little while, make more tea and do very similar things all over again. On the third day, the sky darkened, it rained, and the monk rolled up his meager belongings and went his way. Mission accomplished.
After I read the article, I knew this was part of the answers I had been seeking concerning the mechanics of creation I had used on Wilshire Boulevard a decade earlier. This was the stuff of creation—of spiritual awakening—the direction pointed to by faith.
A few years later, I met up with an old friend of mine, the late Roy Kerswill. He told me that he had started out as an artist for NASA. I drool at the thought of working there. I even had two interviews at Jet Propulsion Lab—one as an artist and one as a software engineer. Neither one proved successful. They weren't looking for new artists, and later, they had just received word of a hiring freeze because of the early 90's recession. Oh well! But Roy left space travel for the wide open spaces of the American West. His paintings became storyboards of the settlers and natives of the American past. Roy was quite successful, selling each of his works for several thousand dollars. He also told me that for a long while his paintings each took several weeks to produce. After a breakthrough in Scientology counseling, his speed rocketed (pardon the pun). Afterward, his paintings took only two to three days to finish.
I don't mean this to sound like an advertisement for that modern cult. There are numerous ways for anyone to cut through the barriers which might hinder their creativity and their productivity. Spiritual counseling is just one of them.
Art is about communication. It is about creating something which did not exist before. It is about finesse and something vitally different, yet something to which we can all connect.
© 2011 Rod Martin Jr