Artist Patrick Martinez Recreates Neon Signs and Pee-Chee Folders To Represent Today's Social Climate

by Flaunt Intern

Photo courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Michael Underwood.

Photo courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Michael Underwood.


For Los Angeles native Patrick Martinez, his surroundings and hip-hop culture have everything to do with his identity as an artist and man today. "A lot of the work that I do speaks to the city,"  Martinez tells Flaunt. "But then also the suburb of what working-class families and their homes look like in terms of color, what they have inside, and the melded city-suburb experience--busy and crazy over-stimulated, but then also just kind of juxtaposed with simple, slow-pace aesthetic."

Martinez is of Mexican, Filipino, and Native American descent who grew up all over the San Gabriel Valley as a kid and settled down in East LA for his later years. “Art was something that I always wanted to do," he says. "I had no interest in anything else.”

Although he was sure of what he was passionate about, the question of if this was something he could make a career out of still raced through his mind. "People were telling me, 'How are you going to make money out of it?' he recalls. "So then you’re trying to figure out, 'How could I do this and make money? Do I need to get a job at DreamWorks? Disney?' It sucks because a lot of people feel like they have to do that. I really didn’t want to just be at a studio working. So I figured that since I knew how to design, use the computer, and art direct, I would oversee projects and then do paintings and work on pieces. I supported the art and didn’t have the art support me. It’s like a plant. You plant the seeds, water it, and when it was strong enough, I broke off and stopped doing those projects. I was able to stand on what I built and assembled as a foundation."

Martinez has been creating art ever since he was a kid, drawing with just a pencil and paper. His creative abilities and interests quickly took off to graffiti, paint, and sculpture. And now they're neon, ceramics, and intricate paintings on Pee-Chee folders.

Photos courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles. Photos by Michael Underwood.

Photos courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles. Photos by Michael Underwood.


Martinez wasenamored with neon signs from driving around the neighborhood at night while passing by all the different storefront signages he saw from laundry mats, check-cashing  shops, and other local businesses. At that moment, he realized how much of an afterthought neon signs have become, despite the power they have when it comes to getting a message across. 

"I thought it was interesting because it would always be in the format of a rectangle or square with text in the middle," Martinez remembers. "I felt like there was this dialogue. I started to feel like I wanted to use that format, but then remix the messaging inside and see what it would that look like if I re-presented it in the storefront."

"A lot of it is overlooked," he says. "Neon is so bright; how could you miss it? But in the city, people just walk by it because it’s just background noise. So I saw it in the context of an issue or a problem that we have that’s so heavy. You’re just like, ‘Oh yeah, whatever,’ ‘I get it,’ ‘It’s just another thing on the news.’ But in the context of a museum or gallery, I think it becomes impactful once you take it out of the storefront."

Photo courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Michael Underwood.

Photo courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Michael Underwood.


Just like the neon signs, Martinez took the traditional Pee-Chee folder and spun it by recreating the messaging. He used the essential folders to highlight issues regarding police brutality and social unrest. These social issues were something that Martinez saw happening during his time graffiti'ing, with his brother getting in trouble, and through the militarization of cops and increase of police presence in schools.

The original folders had generic drawings of kids in school playing football, cheerleading, and doing other activities. But instead of a kid getting tackled in football, he'd paint a cop tackling a kid. And rather than your everyday high school athletes, he'd paint iconic sport players who have sacrificed to stand up for injustice, like the NFL's Colin Kaepernick and tennis' Billie Jean King,

"I’m trying to represent the time that we’re living in," he says. "I’m thinking of art as an artifact. I’m trying to cement these people that are doing things. Like Colin Kaepernick, or someone like Walter Scott, or Eric Garner that they killed. A lot of people are going to forget about that because of the disposable kind of coverage that it gets--if any coverage. So now, what art can do is cement things."

"I’ve done [about] 25 of these Pee-Chee folder paintings and they all have different faces on them," Patrick says. "So that means that they’re recorded in the context of art and if a museum does pick one up, that conversation can still keep on going three or four years from now. It’s not just something that’s been deleted from the Internet. It’s just about being present, and having a soul and caring about things that are happening because you want there to be something better than this."


The Pee-Chee folder painting of athletes Colin Kaepernick, Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Billie Jean King will be featured at the Gallery Lelong in New York for a group exhibition titled Sidelined from January 4, 2018 to February 10, 2018.

Be sure to also check out his solo exhibition America Is For Dreamers at the Vincent Price Art Museum in Cali', opening on December 2, 2017 and on view through April 7, 2018

More of his work can be seen at the Barrio Logos: Displacement and Vanishing Iconography group exhibition at The Residency through December 16, 2017.


Written by Kelly An