martyn thompson, textile designer/photographer, 55
It is from the very insightful Martyn that I first heard the term “parallel career.” I take that to mean a career that uses the strengths and skills of the first career, and allows the original to continue while moving forward in tandem with the second one. Martyn is very much an artist — an exceptionally talented and successful one. He calls his style of photography “interpretive”: seeing what is there and making it better through his vision. These same internal skills that he uses to do his work, he also can use when looking at the bigger picture of a career evolving.
For decades, Martyn Thompson’s considered, textured photography attracted a slew of brands and clients like Hermès and Ralph Lauren looking for his magic touch. Inspired by punk idols like fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, the Australia native’s richness of depth and painter-like aesthetic has been featured in solo gallery shows in New York, where he’s made his home for decades.
But a few years ago, Thompson found himself at a juncture. He’d spent most of his time creating work for clients who had a specific vision, subsuming his own ideas around what he wanted to create in the process. Then he took some paint and splattered it onto a photograph with a piece of fabric lying underneath and trained his lens on the paint marks. The result was a new direction in fabric design, and a return to a feeling he’d lost.
“I want to bring back that thing in my early 20s when I was just experimenting and playing around and not having a specific end in mind to things,” he says. “I think what getting older has allowed me is a lot more self expression. I care so little what people think compared with 20 years ago.”
So many of the people I interview find themselves at a similar juncture. Looking to pivot, or to indulge passions long dormant, they find themselves treading water. Sometimes, they push forward with a strategic plan that maps out their next moves. Other times, it happens with a splatter of paint that feels like something both long-lost and familiar.
“I was much freer with myself,” he says. “And now I’m coming back to that.”
Thompson’s fabric design business is now another tent pole of the creativity pouring out of his SoHo studio. He still travels on commercials gigs, getting inspired in a way that serves both of his pursuits. And that sort of activity has allowed him to see age in the most flexible way.
“My current age theory is that I feel at times I can experience almost any age I’ve experienced so far,” he says. “I’ve got my 22-year-old moments, and my 40-year-old moments and my 55-year-old moments. I can’t see age as a sort of static, or absolute.”
Here are some things I learned during my conversation with Martyn.
identify whats transferable
"There’s words people associated with my photography, like painterly, or tactile. It was a lot about my styling environment. So my skill set was in a color palette and the way I put things together. My aesthetic is applicable to photography, but also a lot of design mediums. So look at what it is you do, and see what it is in essence and where else would those qualities be relevant."
think through what you want
"I believe in the power of intention and if you set your intention, you tend to be lead to something. I think often we identify things in terms of what we don’t want, rather than what we do want. What is it I’m looking for? Am I looking at being artistically satisfied or am I looking for financial remuneration? Am I look for a balance between the two? I think when it’s clear to you, the path opens up."