CLad in paint-splattered jeans, a black V-neck T-shirt, and tan canvas flip-flops, Christopher Martin looks more tousled creative than acclaimed gallerist, though he manages to occupy both roles simultaneously with a signature casual flair. Over the course of a career spanning nearly three decades, Martin has achieved success as both an artist and an entrepreneur, making the unconventional choice to represent his own work, and that of other artists, by opening a nationwide network of Christopher Martin–branded galleries that, in December, expanded into the heart of Vail Village.
“We’re bringing in something that doesn’t exist in Vail,” says Martin, 54, who calls Aspen home and has a pied-à-terre in the Vail Valley. “While it has the same sophisticated international clientele as Aspen, there’s more room for Vail to develop and grow in terms of the type of art presented in the village.”
Martin may be capitalizing on a nationwide pandemic real estate boom that has spawned a seemingly boundless demand among homeowners seeking to fill blank walls with original art, but he says the impetus for expanding into Vail Village was the synthesis of the three variables that have been the key to his success as a gallerist: a unique location, an ideal space, and a potentially lucrative new market.
“A big part of my career was opening spaces that allowed me to display my work in just the right way, similar to what Steve Jobs did with the advent of the Apple store,” Martin explains. “It allows me to carve out a connection to my audience and make their experience the best it can possibly be. It should be a celebration. We try to create that levity and display the art with beautiful energy, a great aesthetic, and true professionalism.”
So far, that formula has yielded impressive results. Since opening his first gallery in 1994 out of a live-work space in Uptown Dallas, Martin has followed with locations in cities across the US, including Aspen, New York, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Dallas, Houston, and Austin. Today, he’s focused that empire on four storefronts between the closely interlinked Texas and Colorado markets, the largest and oldest being his headquarters gallery in Dallas.
Martin’s new Vail Village space, located on East Meadow Drive next to La Bottega, has been completely transformed from a former vacation rental office into an exhibition space where a 450-square-foot glass floor landing and staircase descends into a 4,200-square-foot, halogen-lit subterranean gallery. Finished in the same minimalist gray-and-white palette as his other galleries, the expansive room allows Martin’s work to share wall space with those of a half-dozen other artists curated from the international art fair circuit, from the Venice Biennale to SCOPE Basel. “I selected these artists because they’re highly committed professionals and they represent forms and presentations that I find beautiful and engaging,” he says.
Martin describes his own aesthetic as “organic expressionism.” Modernizing verre églomisé, a technique of back-painting glass that dates to Roman times, he starts with a clear acrylic panel and will then apply heat, wind, water, brush, and pigment to the panel’s back side, working in reverse from foreground to background. “The initial strokes are the most imperative and the final are of very little consequence—the inverse of a canvas,” says Martin, whose works command upward of $75,000 each, with a roster of VIP clients that includes Jay Z and Beyoncé, Coldplay’s Chris Martin (no relation), and Fortune 500 CEOs.
His most famous pieces are a series inspired by the events of September 11: an American flag painted over a collage of headlines clipped from newspapers published on that fateful day. (One was gifted to the late President George H.W. Bush.) Creatively, though, that was something of an anomaly.
“Nature has a profound influence on his paintings,” notes gallery manager Kelsey Sutton. “His goal in most of his series is to keep them void of any overt narrative and for the focus to be on the energy and balance found in the paintings.”
Such energy and balance suffuse the impressive works from his Merkaba series, a graphic, kaleidoscope-inspired design that plays with light, shape, and color. Hanging in his Vail Village gallery, the largest of the series at nearly 100 square feet, titled Sion, is as outsize as the artistic presence Martin seeks to establish on East Meadow Drive.
Christopher Martin Gallery
100 E Meadow Dr, Vail Village