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 Martin Frederick Kaelin  (1926 - )

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: painting, graphic art

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Gawkers at the Strip Club, New Orleans, LA
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:
Martin Frederick Kaelin was born in Philadelphia January 29, 1926, the son of electrician Martin Kaelin and Marie Paul.  After the artist was named Martin, his father changed his own name to Joseph to avoid confusion.  Kaelin’s boyhood schooling was at a Catholic institution in Philadelphia. While the boy doodled with a pencil during a 3rd grade class, Sister Pionina smacked him with a ruler, scaring the third finger on his writing hand (the right) for life, but it made little difference to the lad.  He had to draw and continued to do so, regardless of scorn or criticism.  By the he was a teenager, he yearned to be a cartoonist because he liked to draw people doing fun-filled activities and he saw the humor in the human condition.

Kaelin received his art education at the Fleisher Art Memorial in 1943 (in the old Graphic Sketch Club building in Philadelphia) and the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) from 1953-1957.  During those years, he was highly influenced by the loose spontaneous brushwork of Vincent vanGogh, Maurice Utrillo, Oscar Kokoshka and Gustav Klimpt and admired the canvases of Edgar Degas, Pierre Bonnard and the social realism of the Ash Can School.  One of his mentors was Ben Eisenstadt (painter, illustrator and cartoonist), who told Kaelin, “I like your work because it reminds me of me!”  Other teachers included  Martin Jacob Jackson (figure painter), Carl Sherman (representational illustrator) and Oliver Nuse, Karl Sherman, Benton Sproence and Gertrude Shell.  In the 1950s, Kaelin became a member of Artist Equity, but he generally did not join clubs.

Since childhood, Kaelin has been inspired by performance art. His love for music and theater is apparent in his work. He paints carnival, stage, minstrel, street and beach activities from Coney Island to New Orleans in a confident, playful manner.  When he was 18, he met Ash Can painter-illustrator Reginald Marsh, who invited him to his studio to “draw, if you want.”  Kaelin was impressed with Marsh’s friendly, open personality and by his candid, often raw depictions of the beach and burlesque.  At that time, Marsh taught two days a week in Philadelphia.  In many ways, Kaelin followed in Marsh’s footsteps, painting the American scene in all its funkiness and gaiety, while he shared what he knew by teaching others how to paint at the Philadelphia College of Art (1956-1977), Fleisher Art School (1957-1977) and the Haddonfield Art Department, NJ (1962-1987).  “I love to teach,” Kaelin admits. “It keeps a person young.”

In 1946, Kaelin first went to New Orleans and was enchanted and mesmerized by colorful, jovial street carnivals clamoring with voodoo, musicians, dancers, ladies-of-the-night, and curious onlookers along Bourbon or Orleans Street.  He gravitated to the circus, to jazz concerts and to back street scenes where the seamy and the prosperous mingle.

The haunting aspects of Halloween intrigue Kaelin and he did a series of entertaining Halloween paintings during the 1960s that depict witches, broomsticks, devilish shies filled with animated moons and black cats that seem to embody how a child feels during a “Trick or Treat” adventure.

Kaelin says art “is an attitude of life. The joys, abrasions, thoughts and sensations passing through the sieve of the intellect become raw material of expression, the emotion of response. Art is a personal, private thing to be cherished, [one can’t be] concerned with acceptance or approval.  Embracing the stylish or a depersonalized expression is to deny the very existence of art….While the banner of originality is exalted…the artist of integrity finds himself standing alone with his shadow….”  He admits, “My work is concerned with an anonymous society of crowds, a loneliness at times, perhaps a sense of being lost…It is joyous reality or fantasy.”  When asked why he became an artist, he says casually, “Why do birds sing?”

Kaelin met fellow art student Judith Siriani at the Fleisher Art Memorial and the two wed on November 17, 1962.  They have one son, an artist also named Martin.  Kaelin’s work always has declared through moving textural avenues of paint a sense of musical rhythms.  As a blues and jazz devotee, he incorporated music’s throbbing pulsations, rhythms, sounds and angular tones into painted expressions.  As he “melted” walls in paint, every aspect of his work began to vibrate and he soon became an expressionist.  His beach scenes also throb with rhythmic movement, action and humorous antidotes.

Kaelin exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, PAFA, Civic Center Museum, University of PA, Louisiana State Museum, Philadelphia Art Alliance, Glassboro State College (NJ), Rutgers University (NJ), the Duncan Art Gallery and Marbella Gallery (both of NYC) and has had successful one-man exhibitions at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, Rutgers University, Marbella Gallery (NYC 1990), University of PA, Fleisher Art Memorial and more.

Submitted by Patricia Jobe Pierce

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