(Above) Darrin Martin embraces his Salvation Army heritage through artwork such as “Blood & Fire,” which depicts the Salvation Army flag, bonnet and timbrel
“The Salvation Army has always been a part of my life,” says Darrin Martin, a soldier at St. John’s Temple, N.L. His father was a corps sergeant-major in Mount Pearl, N.L., and at various points in his life, Darrin participated in Salvation Army arts.
From singing at congresses, playing cornet and stepping in as acting bandmaster at St. John’s West Corps for two years, to playing Clarence Wiseman, the first Newfoundlander elected General, on stage at a Newfoundland and Labrador divisional congress in 2017, Darrin has engaged in a wide range of arts ministry. Now, after a lifetime of performing, Darrin has returned to his roots as a visual artist.
In the Arts
“My career has come full circle,” says Darrin, who completed three diploma programs at the College of the North Atlantic in 1999: visual arts, recording arts and a program called music, industry and performance. Though most people know him as a singer and performer, he began as a visual artist.
“As a kid, I got good grades in school, but it didn’t come naturally to me,” he says. “Whereas, with art, it came naturally—almost intuitively.” When he finished his diploma programs, Darrin applied to be a set painter at the Stephenville Theatre Festival, the longest-running theatre company in Newfoundland and Labrador. But according to Darrin, God and the theatre company had other plans. “When they called me back, they wanted me to be lead actor. I suppose it was the way that God had intended for me.”
For the next 20 years of his life, Darrin hardly touched any visual art. He felt like that chapter of his life was complete. Instead, he worked as a music teacher and performer. But when the pandemic began in early 2020, Darrin felt like his life was headed in a new direction. “I was on the edge of burnout,” he says. “I had to make some decisions and it wasn’t easy. But I deal with anxiety, and performing isn’t easy either.”
His wife, Georgina, thought he should get back into his artwork. “Just one painting,” she said.
One painting became 10, which became 50, which became 100. Today, Darrin has painted more than 600 pieces and sells his art worldwide, shipping everywhere from Australia to England to South Korea, and throughout North America.
“Now I’m trying to navigate a new career at middle age,” he says. “But I truly feel that this is what I’m meant to do. And you can bring joy to others just as easily with art as you can with music.”
Telling a Story
Darrin owns an art studio in Torbay, N.L., called NorthSide Studios. One look at the art on his website, which features a portfolio of his work and a shop to purchase original paintings and prints, shows a deep love of colour and the many themes that inspire his creativity—the coastal landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador, music and lyrics, God and Scripture, and even The Salvation Army. Whatever the theme, he strives to make art that tells stories.
“When I was a music teacher, I would tell my students that as musicians, we have to tell a story,” explains Darrin.
“Art, for me, is the same. Each piece tells a story. Some of them are joyful. Some are spiritual. Some are dark. But those are sometimes the pieces that people relate to most.”
In 2020, Darrin painted “Let It Be,” inspired by the popular Beatles song, which depicts a sorrowful Mother Mary looking over the earth, tears in her eyes, crying at the state of the world. “Sometimes we need to have things that are uncomfortable, especially in the last couple of years,” explains Darrin. “Sickness, war, shootings—it’s heartbreaking. But as an artist, you have to present those things, too, not just the pretty stuff.”
Darrin often writes about the meaning and inspiration behind his pieces and how they relate to his own life experiences and the experiences of those in his community. Some are about mental health, such as his piece titled “Now I Understand (My Starry Night).” Though vibrant and whimsical, their meanings dig deeper into the realities of hurt and pain.
“They’re not fluffy pieces. They show anguish,” he says. “Some people like that because they can relate to it. But if my art can inspire others, and if I can make people happy or make people think, I’ve done my job.”
Showing the Gospel
No matter how busy life is, especially for Darrin who has three daughters, 11 huskies and four cats, his day does not feel complete until he picks up a paintbrush. With paintings such as “The Good Shepherd” and “The Lord’s Prayer,” Darrin wants his art to show that he isn’t ashamed of Jesus. Instead, he wants to honour the Lord through his gift.
“I don’t like to say that I’ve created a piece. I like to say I made it,” says Darrin. “I’m just a conduit. I can’t do it by myself. God gave me the ability to create, and I don’t want to be ungrateful for that.”
For Darrin, painting has become a way to show people the beauty and the sacrifices of God. “Making art is a way to thank him for the gifts I have,” he concludes. “I present God and the gospel through my art to hopefully give back and to inspire.”
To learn more about Darrin Martin or view his artwork, visit northsidestudiosnl.com.
Photos: Darrin Martin