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UMGC Global Media Center

A Journey into the Vast Mythological World of Percy Martin

Alex Kasten
By Alex Kasten
"Bushman’s Time Travel," 2023, pigment print, artist’s proof, edition of 12. 40 x 32 inches

A master printmaker skilled in virtually all techniques, Percy Martin produces art that embodies mythological worlds of his own creation. Rooted in African traditions, his work expresses symbols and historical concepts that defy time and space.

A common theme that runs through Martin’s work currently on display at the University of Maryland Global Campus Arts Program Gallery is the merging of African diasporic cultures with science fiction. This aesthetic, expressed today as “Afrofuturism,” elevates the intersection of science-fiction, history and fantasy in exploring the African American experience.

The exhibit, which runs Aug.13–Oct. 8, 2023, includes a 2023 pigment print titled Bushman’s Time Travel that embodies this concept. In it, past, present, mythology and gender identity come to life in a work that offers the viewer a visual timeline as well as symbols of a creation myth.

Martin has been working on the series of prints that detail the life, culture and history of the Bushmen people born out of his imagination. Although often rooted in the past, many of the artist’s prints point to the future. In this mythological world, African people control technology and their universe.

In several other stunning woodcut prints on display, such as If We, Martin combines tribal imagery with mythological symbols.

"If We," 1982, woodcut, artist’s proof, 16. x 28 inches, Private collection.

“Martin grapples with contemporary issues, embedding personal questions and searching for answers in his art,” said Eric Key, director of the Arts Program at University of Maryland Global Campus. “Although Martin models his storytelling on African traditions, beliefs and rituals, the myth is his own creation.”

Born in 1943 in Danville, Virginia, Martin spent most of his childhood and adult life in Washington, D.C. He graduated from the public school system and attended the Corcoran School of Art on a scholarship, with a double major in advertising design and printmaking. As a Corcoran graduate, he taught design and printmaking at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Sidwell Friends School. He retired from teaching in 2009 after a 29-year career.

As stunning and symbolic as Martin’s woodblock prints are his watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings, also well represented in the exhibit. One watercolor, Untitled, illustrates Martin’s connection with ancient Egypt. In it, we see symbols of the afterlife—a pyramid, birds taking on human form, an elephant and a tomb.

What is particularly striking about Martin’s art is the breadth of his skill, honed over a lifetime of work. Bold monochromatic woodcut Bushman series prints hang next to meticulous pen-and-ink nudes, which hang next to watercolors that display his mastery of color. Now 80, Martin continues to produce prints at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland, even as his sight fails.

Viewing Martin’s work is like entering a hallway of adventure, with stories and characters and surprises living behind every door. In his work and in this exhibit, Martin invites us to enter his mythical universe and join him on his personal journey of discovery.