The art of history
Pate’s historical paintings leave impression
by Bradley Hartsell
Maybe calling a great artist versatile is redundant. The ability to accomplish many skills in a great painting is almost a requisite for an artist. Still, it’s hard not to look at Martin Pate’s body of work and not feel he harbors a wider array of skill than most.
Pate, a resident of Newnan, is part of the Society of Seven, a vaunted painting collective formed for the month of October. Each of the Seven have had or will have an evening in which they are featured, usually for a painting demonstration. In a demo Pate did last Thursday, he showed how he works from photographs he’s taken to express it anew with paint.
In his demo, Pate painted on masonite board and recreated a scene of a dirt road running beside a large soybean field, a place in South Carolina near Florence. Pate’s work, particularly in landscapes, is notable for the use of dots as highlights. When highlighting colors, like the bursting yellow petals on a field of flowers, Pate will carefully dot the painting, a subtle effect that makes his work crackle with life.
These are the modern realism, almost impressionistic works Pate is partly known for. Many of these are hanging in the Society of Seven gallery. He doesn’t just stop at those, though. Pate is also a noteworthy portrait artist.
In the demo, Pate mentioned how there’s a fastness to his approach with landscapes while there’s a more controlled aspect to doing portraits.
In fact, Pate has two business cards, one for general purpose and another specifically for portraits.
“I’ve always felt like I had to be fairly diverse,” said Pate, who started out in the illustration business and never knew from day-to-day what type of work was needed from him. “When I moved from Atlanta to Newnan and did less illustration and more commision and gallery type work, that versatility came to light doing landscapes, people and even still lifes.”
Fellow Society member Millie Gosch, who had her own demo earlier this month, sees Pate’s talent as a special blend.
“His ability to paint these moving historical scenes is beautiful,” said Gosch. “In the field and his figures, are all great, too. His landscapes are dramatic. He’s just really skilled. His knowledge of technique, from a beautiful ballerina or an emotional historical scene, is terrific.”
Pate’s long history with art allows him to appreciate an even deeper history. His curiosity and diligence allows him to thrive on historical commissions, but his immense talent cannot be limited to any one form.
Jo Ann Ray, former museum director with the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society and who still serves on board of directors, has worked extensively with Pate on his historical paintings. His paintings in the Historic Train Depot on East Broad Street in Newnan commemorate certain events that happened in Newnan and Coweta during the Civil War. Pate took the information the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society had on record and visualized the events, like the standoff at the East Broad Street railroad tracks leading to the Battle of Brown’s Mill, into paintings.
“He understands the importance of protecting the past,” said Ray. “His diversity is amazing. To go from plein-air impressionism to portraits, where the detail lets you know exactly who that person is, it’s wonderful.”
Pate, having been a member of the local historical society for years, was a familiar face for the society when it came time to commission paintings. They approached Pate about doing four paintings about the Battle of Brown’s Mill, something he jumped at.
“I really liked the idea of doing something local. It was more personal,” explained Pate. “The real story of Newnan is the doctors and nurses and hospitals that were here. The fact that Newnan is a hospital town is a really important story.” Pate enjoyed the work so much, it inspired a fifth painting, about Civil War nurse Fannie Beers.
At the demo, Pate talked about how his first signed and hung painting was done when he was in the tenth grade. He still has notebooks from when he was a little kid of drawings he would do.