Copper in the Arts

November 2007

Martino Hoss and Pastel on Copper: Vignettes of a Memory

By Michael Cervin

Martino Hoss OverSound Over Sound, pastel on copper, by Martino Hoss

Photograph by William Wickett

It's been a dozen years since artist Martino Hoss stumbled upon a beat up copper sheet in his studio. Prior to that, Hoss had focused on print-making and serigraphs. But the tediousness wasn't challenging.

"Serigraphs are very methodical," he said. "I needed spontaneity."

He wanted to experiment with non-traditional materials. He noticed a spare copper sheet one day and began to paint on it. Initially he used copper that had been distressed, and sometimes he would distress it himself. "I used to walk on it and ride my bike over it," he says, attempting to get a worn look. But as the years passed, he began to gravitate towards clean copper.

Since he was exposed to the natural environment, having grown up near the Monterey Peninsula, he decided to paint images of familiar landscapes using pastel on copper sheets. "I consider myself a colorist," he says and in seeing his copper works, it's clear that the pastel provides a brilliant pigment, but also that the copper provides an incredible luminosity. "The copper kicks out a warmth," he added. Hoss uses 10 ounce or 12 ounce copper sheets, applying one coat of pastel, before administering a spray fixative, and then a final coat of pastel. (There are a few other tricks, but he won't divulge them.) He prefers copper sheets in the 10" x 18" range, though has produced a few pieces as large as 3' x 4'.

Though painting on copper isn't unique, Hoss's familiar themes have drawn collectors from private individuals who own multiple pieces, to corporate America, and overseas investors. He estimates that he has painted about 450 copper-based pieces and averages 50 to 60 each year. "I'm fortunate that I don't have a lot of inventory," he adds.

Though he plans on experimenting using oil on copper, the idea is the same. He sketches his base idea with a Sharpie pen, and then gets to work.

Martino Hoss Becoming Becoming, pastel on copper, by Martino Hoss

Photograph by William Wickett

"You have to see the picture in your head. You simply cannot re-work a piece until you're satisfied," he said. It must be right the first time. After all, pastel and copper is less forgiving than acrylic and canvas. Adding to those complexities, copper is more expensive than it used to be. "My cost for copper tripled in one year!" But he loves the material and won't give it up.

Hoss has shown at galleries in locations that reflect his love of nature; Sun Valley, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Santa Barbara, California and many others. According to Hoss, those who purchase his work, are intrigued by the copper because it possess an almost three dimensional quality to it. But they also respond to his timely themes; landscapes that capture an image we've all seen, even if we're not quite sure where. He capitalizes on this fundamental idea and sees his copper pastels as "vignettes of people's memories."

At his home in Seattle not long ago he awoke early one morning and grabbed his young son to watch a sunrise over Lake Washington. After standing outside in his pajamas viewing the sunrise, along with others who had gathered to watch the magnificent moment, a woman turned to him. "Well," she sighed, "enjoy your day at work." He paused a moment, then said to her, "I'm working right now."

That sunrise will surely make its way into someone's home, where Martino Hoss's name will grace a copper and pastel painting, one that carries a memory of a landscape someone once saw, a place not too far from home.

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