Tony Martin, a jazz musician-turned-painter, first came across liquid light when seeing a performance of Elias Romero’s on Capp Street in San Francisco. The studio space had a full wall of Romero’s projections and was accompanied by live jazz. Describing his enthusiasm for the liquid projections, Martin recalls similar statements by the pioneers of abstract cinema: “I think almost anyone who has seen this painting in continuous motion feels its magical, sometimes powerful excitement.” Romero encouraged Martin to explore his own liquid light compositions, and the two eventually worked together after Martin became the visual director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center.
The Tape Center was where Martin collaborated with avant-garde composers such as Ramon Sender, Pauline Oliveros, and Morton Subotnick. Martin also worked with Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Martin refers to his practice as “painting in time,” and he and his cohort toured their intermedia pieces around the United States between 1961 and 1966. Martin was a tinkerer and an innovator. He describes his method in Cageian terms as “chance plus choice.” His wide-ranging experimentation with media included the use of acetate inks, solvents, etching, painting, found materials such as butterfly wings, tobacco, marbles, and lace, as well as cut and spliced film. He made meticulous light changes using 1,000-watt rheostats that he found in the Mission.