For the past decade, Martinez has created provocative works on mostly large canvases using oils, acrylics, and spray paint in a vibrant oeuvre depicting characters and gatherings of objects. This work is seen through both a figurative and abstract eye, paying a tempered nod to graffiti art. His colors are shamelessly primary, his gestures primal, his style urban and youthful, and his use of shapes and space at once playful and discordant. “I get into a sort of shamanic state sometimes when I’m painting,” says the artist, “and I’ll just grab whatever’s next to me and just use it.”
The title of your upcoming exhibition, Nomader, sheds light on your practice of changing locations in between four different art studios in Brooklyn and Long Island. Can you explain how this practice came about? It started in the studio in Greenpoint in 2013 and then I moved to a new studio in Bed Stuy in January 2014, and I did a lot of work on it there. Historically I spend the summers out of the city—the last few years it’s been Long Island—and I know these guys who have this bar in Easthampton that’s getting torn down in September, so I started using that space around the end of April. I just finished up there a couple weeks ago, now I’m working on a studio closer to the house. The Hampton space is tough once the summer’s over, and we live on the Northport, so I got a studio over here. I’m just trying to crank out the last two pieces up here; they’re both about 9 x 12 feet.
Has your attitude toward the role of faces in your paintings, or the function of a facial expression, evolved over the years? Yeah, in 2010 I made this 30-foot triptych of a scene similar to The Last Supper, called The Feast, and I presented that at Art Basel in Miami. While I was making that thing I had a fairly small studio and it was taking up the whole studio, every day I was going in and painting these figures over and over again. I just realized I really got sick of it and just didn’t want to look at these stupid faces anymore. So that’s when I started dabbling in abstraction. And then I brought figures back, but ever since then, they’ve been more abstracted. I just got burnt out on it. I see that as a turning point.
Is there something about living in New York City that you feel is inherent to the way you express yourself and that inspires you the most? Absolutely. I would hope that people would see what I’m doing simply as a continuation of New York painting. That’s what they said about… I hate to use the name because I don’t want to be fucking compared to him anymore, but Basquiat, people said he was a continuation of New York painting. And I guess that’s what I’d like for it to be, if I ever go down in history.
There’s a conscious connection that you feel. I love New York, as much as I moved around, I really feel rooted in New York. All my family is from New York, from Brooklyn in particular. I got into graffiti at an early age, specifically New York graffiti; everything is New York-centric for me, visually and personally.
What was the last piece of street graffiti that stopped you in your tracks when you saw it? Barry McGee was my hero when I was in high school. He’s the guy that—for this generation—took it from the street to galleries. But I don’t want to talk too much about graffiti because it gets overplayed.
You’re reaching for more open space, not crowding the canvas too much. Yeah, I guess I’m looking at them being more dusty and wispy. Open to change.
Is Franny (your French Bulldog) a permanent fixture in the process? Oh yeah, big time. She always goes with me.
And if she’s out of commission are you out of commission? Emotionally and spiritually, yeah, but I would still work.