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Toni Martin’s language of art


Butters, acrylic, wood and glass paint, 48″ x 48″

The self-expression that comes from creating art is a powerful thing, a dynamic way of releasing emotion and telling a story in a way that is incredibly personal. It’s also wildly interpretive and extremely subjective. One viewer will take away something vastly different than another, but the intense reaction is still there. It is the underlying heart—the pain, the joy, the hope, the confusion—that beats in highest relief, coming through in the colors, the shapes and the lines to become a piece that truly captivates.

It was in art that Toni Martin found her greatest method of communicating with a world that often didn’t understand her words, giving her a beautiful language that made her feel articulate and free. A self-taught artist with little formal training, Martin has spent the last eight years honing her particular skills through different mediums. The literal definition of the “starving artist,” she has slept on the couches of friends and the floors of government housing, sacrificing comfort and security in pursuit of her craft. Fortunately for the passionate artist, she has built a career that has brought with it the support of patrons who recognize the incredible talent that lies within her.

Starchild, acrylic and ink on canvas, 48″ x 36″

Not one to confine herself to one medium, Martin explores art through sculpture, paint and photography—all of which have been pivotal in giving her a voice that words could not. “It’s highly frustrating when I realize that my brain is lacking the necessary verbal tools needed to convey to other people what it is I am thinking,” Martin says. “Sometimes the only way I can communicate is through paint, shapes and form. I feel I am trapped in my mind and have developed a language through art that allows me to express myself and feel a connection.”

That connection is a deep one, one that strips her bare and almost implores the viewer to understand her. To create that intense emotion in others, Martin taps into the feelings deep inside and channels them. “I create works of art by using expressive gestures through fluid movement and precise pigment placement, which helps communicate my own emotional vulnerabilities,” she explains. “My vulnerability on many planes allows me to create a sense of empathy shared with the audience. Through immersing myself in a state of flow, my sense of shape, color and balance develop into an abstract, unspoken language, ultimately allowing viewers to go on an emotional journey.”

Home, enamel and acrylic on wood, 90″ x 90″; Photo by Thomas Garza

Much like the emotions she’s trying to convey, all of her pieces are abstract and epitomize conceptual art. Each offers a deep gaze into her psyche, reaching into her soul and wresting something very personal from it. “My artistic concepts develop from a combative sexual, sensual and emotional connection to a topic,” Martin contends. “My deconstruction of an idea usually consists of bouncing about my studio chaotically as I search for my concept’s identity. I leave all mental doors open until I find the puzzle piece that fits. In applying abstraction, I bring intense personal moments to life by tossing, turning, loving, denying or accepting involuntary wants and needs to persuade my medium as if it is a living entity bouncing off of my thought process.”

Insular, wood and resin with enamel, 36″ x 36″

As unstructured as her process is, the end result is something remarkable and often holds a message designed to help others. Her 2016 piece entitled ICON, for example, was the culmination of more than a year’s work to exemplify an expression of her difficulties in life as someone with an alternative learning style. “I wanted to capture the beauty that comes along with having a different complexity to one’s mind or being one of a kind,” Martin explains. “ICON captures the brain’s synapsis of dynamic and unique thoughts and what it would look like in physical shapes from someone who is learning different, like me.” Hoping to inspire others through her work, Martin later donated ICON to Shelton, an independent school for intelligent students with learning differences.

PRIM-SYM, wood and resin, 8″ cubes

Interestingly, Martin also draws a parallel between her art and music, almost ascribing the movements and colors she uses to a beat or a melody. “Many of my works bridge an innate connection to music, where my fingers act as the instrument and the paint serves as musical notes,” she says. “My Euphoria series is an example of this. By creating this way, I am able to live in the melody and act as a vessel for a colorful, interpretational dance guided by feeling nuances and artistic impulses. The paintings created from sound engage people through the universal bond of music, shapes, sounds and colors.” Each piece she creates is raw self-expression—and that’s beautiful in the eyes of any beholder.

Photo by Thomas Garza

Liesel Schmidt lives in Navarre, Florida, and works as a freelance writer for local and regional magazines. She is also a web content writer and book editor. Follow her on Twitter at @laswrites or download her novels, Coming Home to You, The Secret of Us and Life Without You, at and

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