Martin, Liam Christopher (1934–98), artist and illustrator, was born 25 February 1934 in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath, the son of Ambrose Victor Martin of Kilbeggan, a commercial traveller, and his wife Margaret (née Harding). When he was aged one his family moved to Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, where his father ran a greengrocery business. Martin began to draw at the age of five, and his parents nurtured his talent by hiring Harry Kernoff (qv) to give him private lessons when he was ten. His artistic interests may also have been encouraged by the fact that his mother had photographed much of her native Kilbeggan. Kernoff's own ground-breaking work as an 'artistic chronicler' of Dublin's urban environment clearly left its mark on Martin's work, which focused mainly, but not exclusively, on the capital's landmarks and quaint neighbourhoods, but also its increasing neglect, decay and destruction. He attended the National College of Art for two sessions in 1951–2 and again 1959–61, where he was a student of Seán Keating (qv), whose mission to create a 'strong or easily identifiable Irish visual tradition' can only have inspired his student to innovate such a genre by capturing Dublin's landmarks and distinctive visual environment. He remained in contact with Keating, who opened Martin's sixth exhibition at Ireland House on 5 May 1972.
Martin is most famous as an urban artist and for his distinctive pen-and-ink drawings of Dublin's streetscapes, shopfronts and vanishing architectural landmarks, a genre he pioneered in the 1960s and which became highly popular through weekly sketches and regular features in the press. From 1960 to 1964, 'Liam Martin's Ireland' was a regular feature in the Irish Times, but his sketches also enhanced various columns in the paper (e.g., 'Irish schools' (15–16 April 1964)), and his personalised impressions of hotels or department stores gave a lift to the otherwise dry 'Business and finance' section. He first published Liam C. Martin's Dublin sketch book in 1962 in association with the Irish Georgian Society, and more compilations followed, including themed volumes on churches and on medical and legal Dublin. Martin also contributed to the Irish Independent and briefly published a regular column, 'This is your city', in the Dublin Evening Mail in 1962. It was, though, his 'Know your Dublin' feature, appearing in the Evening Herald from 1967 until his death, that influenced a generation increasingly embracing environmental politics and agitating for the preservation of its urban heritage. His little-known rendering of the 1916 leaders in The soldier's story of Easter week (1966) by Brian O'Higgins (qv), while personable and well intentioned, was in too light-hearted a style to compete with the classically dignified portraits produced by Seán O'Sullivan (qv). Martin also travelled the country capturing historical buildings, and later contributed drawings to one of Ireland's first hillwalking guides, by J. B. Malone (qv).
Some critics have pointed to Martin's occasionally rushed, at times overly figurative and even indecipherable style, while others often found his interpretations too subjective. A later attempt at oil painting was not deemed successful. He was at his best when his work was clear, studied and patiently crafted and his scenes immediately recognisable. Painstakingly walking the backstreets, he was known to ask drivers (politely) to move their cars so he could set up his easel. One indicator of the importance of his work is that the NLI has catalogued his drawings among its collection of Irish topographical prints and drawings, along with defining artists of that classical genre from the eighteenth century. Though Martin has been somewhat forgotten and his books are out of print, the impact of his signature style remains influential. His most significant legacy is having captured on paper innumerable views and structures before the bulldozers wreaked havoc. As the building boom of the 1960s was taking its toll on the capital's built heritage, his press features, published collections of drawings, and exhibitions were instrumental in motivating others to record both the august and the quaint. Trawling through reviews of his work reveals successive layers of the city's transformation. He often contrasted old and new, or sites razed in readiness for rebuilding. From the Gasometer to the family home of Robert Emmet (qv) on the northwest corner of St Stephen's Green, Martin recorded innumerable views of vanishing Ireland.
In 1977 he was voted the Westmeath Association man of the year. He had settled in Tallaght, Co. Dublin, with his wife Violet (née Dillon; d. 2009), with whom he published Medieval Dublin: an illustrated guide to the town within the walls (2000?). Martin died in Dublin after a short illness on 28 May 1998.