Strokes of Surrealism

Jaden Mendola on June 1st, 2019

Painter Dave Martsolf Takes a New Direction With His Latest Works

Dave Martsolf has been honing his craft as an abstract visual art for almost 50 years. Inside his home studio in Windham, New Hampshire, Martsolf has explored a wide variety of media, including painting, digital art and photography.

His latest series, a collection of abstract line paintings, marks Martsolf’s first steps into Merrimack Valley’s art scene after retiring from his full-time job as the quality manager at an electronics company. Using black line work and a spectrum of blended oils, these paintings signify a new style for Martsolf that he has been consistent with since his retirement in 2017.

Despite his appreciation for visual art, Martsolf didn’t always intend to pursue a career in painting. After graduating from Concord High School, he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he studied architecture, following the same path as his father and grandfather. Martsolf’s academic research introduced him to a new mode of expression he initially enjoyed. While studying architecture, Martsolf was given room to exercise his creativity, but he still wasn’t comfortable with the field’s limitations. 

“I was struggling with architecture as a field of study,” Martsolf says. “It was not satisfying my deep-seated need to create objects with more personal and fluid content.”

Photo by Kevin Harkins.

Martsolf’s father was also an artist, and he even taught art at Kansas State University. But when he was asked to work at the family’s architectural firm, the professor dropped his dreams of being a painter. Martsolf recognized that his father sacrificed his passion of painting for a more profitable career in architecture, and he didn’t want to do the same. 

“I was going to be like my father,” Martsolf says. “I chose art because nobody could tell me what to do. I could do whatever I wanted to.”

After three years at MIT, Martsolf transferred to the University of New Hampshire, where he earned a degree in fine arts and began his career in painting. He knew he couldn’t support himself on his paintings alone, so he took a series of miscellaneous jobs to pay the rent. For Martsolf, the next four decades were a continuous and delicate balancing act between working office jobs during the day and experimenting with painting and photography at night. When his day jobs became more demanding and his family grew, Martsolf put his painting career on hold. 

Left: “Space Pirate” Top right: “Fiddler” Bottom right: “Portals.” When creating his line paintings, Martsolf first sketches a series of design ideas with pencil, sometimes on paper and sometimes on napkins. He then chooses the sketches he likes best and transforms them into full-scale paintings. Oils and various brushes bring his work to life.

“I had a wife and a daughter at that point, surrealism was not in vogue, and I did not want to go down the path of commercial art, where any talent I had would be controlled by others,” Martsolf says.

So he waited, and at age 67 retired from his day job. Now able to fully dedicate his time to painting, Martsolf has been more prolific than ever. He concentrates on getting his latest work featured in galleries and festivals and has even won a handful of awards, including TheArtList.com’s Artist of the Month in February 2018. Lowell’s Gallery Z and Marlborough’s Paradise City Arts Festival are just a couple of the locations that have recently featured Martsolf’s work. 

Martsolf hopes that by dedicating more time to creating and promoting his artwork he’ll be able to build a sustainable business by presenting and selling it. But no matter how his work is received, Martsolf aims to continue doing what he loves.

“I jumped in and I swam,” he says. “I did what I love. If people didn’t buy it, well, that’s life. But I did the best I could do.”

 A comprehensive catalogue of Martsolf’s most recent works can found on his website, DaveMartsolf.com, along with prices for individual paintings.  

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