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L.A. based artist Patrick Martinez’s artistic practice takes many forms. An observer of the city, his work illustrates the ever-changing urban landscape and the beauty that can be found within the diverse and layered aesthetics of our streets. Martinez discusses his role as an observer, the importance of recovering and documenting erased histories, and how his art serves a social purpose, communicating the most pressing social issues of our time.
“It’s also about observation too, right? And reacting to the changing landscape, the disappearing landscape or land, businesses, surfaces, colors, it’s all of that really. And trying to kind of merge those things together to create something that can speak to how fast everything is moving and just you know, how things are in transition and they aren’t cemented and they’re in this kind of mixture of things right now.” –Patrick Martinez
Host and Producer: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Engineering: PJ Shahamat
Production assistance: Alitzah Oros
Theme music: Joel P West
Episode Sponsor: Odd Ark LA
Lindsay Preston Zappas: Hello and welcome to the Carla podcast. My name is Lindsay Preston Zappas and I’m the founder and editor-in-chief of Contemporary Art Review, Los Angeles. Carla is a quarterly magazine online art journal and podcast committed to being an active source for critical dialogue surrounding L.A.’s Art community. In this episode, I talk to L.A. Based artist Patrick Martinez. Patrick Martinez’s artistic practice takes many forms, from mixed media paintings that include stucco tiles and found signage to me on signs that include language pulled from protests and literature. The rich surfaces of his painting suggests the ever-changing landscape of Los Angeles and expose the beauty that can be found within the dense and layered aesthetic of our streets. In our conversation. We discussed the importance of recovering and documenting erased histories and how his art serves a social purpose and communicates the most pressing social issues of our time. Also Martinez talks about how he thinks about his role as an observer of our city.
Patrick Martinez: It’s just also about observation too, right? And reacting to the changing landscape, the disappearing landscape or land, businesses, surfaces, colors. It’s all of that really. And trying to kind of merge those things together to create something that can speak to how fast everything is moving and just like, you know, how things are in transition. And they aren’t like, cemented, they’re in this kind of a mixture of things right now.
LPZ: This is a packed episode so stay with us.
AD: The Carla podcast is supported in part by OD ARK L.A. who is pleased to present a very special project by artist, Marnie Webber, Songs Forevermore–an installation and record release exhibition of 250 hand collaged and painted unique LP covers for the vinyl album soundtrack of Weber’s visionary feature film The Day of Forevermore. Recurring characters from the bizarre, humorous and dreamy weave together across the album covers, which will be presented on floor to ceiling shelves that allow for unexpected narratives. On view at OD ARK L.A. from November 13th to December 4th, find out more at oddarkla.com.
AD: Carla issue 26 is being released this Friday! The issue includes articles about artist Raul Guerrero and how he deflates mythologies, Nao Bustamante’s redesign of the speculum, how the online community virtual care lab is rethinking the internet, and a conversation with Tongva artist L. Frank. We also have reviews of Aria Dean, Kenneth Tam, Eliza Douglas, Julie Weitz and more. You can find the issue at your local L.A. Art gallery starting this week, or order a copy of the issue or a subscription in our online store, and we’ll ship it straight to you. You can read the issue digitally plus access Spanish translations starting this Friday at contemporaryartreview.la/print. Also, subscribe to this podcast feed to catch the audio book of the issue coming out soon.
LPZ: Growing up in Pasadena in the eighties and nineties, L.A.-based artists, Patrick Martinez lived within a diverse community that surrounded him throughout his childhood. Discarded objects from the streets of Los Angeles are collaged with stucco, ropes, ceramic tiles and spray paint into his landscape works. Martinez is a constant observer and uses his practice as a kind of record-keeping. Vinyl banners, neon and pastel stucco recalls today’s L.A. streets, while imagery from archeological sites in Central Mexico, uncover past histories. In our conversation, Martinez discusses his early influences, the impact that graffiti culture has on his current work, and how observation plays a vital role in preserving history. Later, we talk about how he incorporates political activism into his art practice. Here’s my conversation with Patrick Martinez.
PM: It was a different time when I was 11 years old, you know, I was in middle school and I had a really good childhood kind of growing up. It was very, I can’t complain about that. And when I went to middle school, it was very different. The video of Rodney King was playing on every station. There was conflict and violence in our middle schools, black and brown violence. And that was like, you know, me being 11 years old and just really getting thrown into it and I didn’t even understand. The time was just interesting. 12 years old during the 92 Uprising. Then, just growing up during that time I was picking up graffiti and things like that and learning that through my brother and friends and peers and things like that. The soundtrack was rap music and Pasadena was a different place. There was a lot of cruising, low riders, and all kinds of characters, doing art and graffiti. There was gang culture. And, yeah, I just, I don’t really have a chance to really set up the setting for me. Like when I’m talking about it in interviews and stuff, it’s not really not able to talk about the nuance and the timing and people will just assume like, oh, Pasadena, oh it’s like, you know, that time was very interesting to be a teenager in Pasadena.
LPZ: For sure. For sure. Yeah. And thinking about graffiti culture, I mean, for that, you know, being like junior high, high school, it feels like such a way to connect with community. Right. And like bond with your peers. Was that kind of the thrust of how you were thinking about just like something cool to do with your friends? Or were you guys thinking about it, like in an artistic way or kind of both, or, you know, did it feel like expression or was it more just kind of like community?
PM: You know, I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember. When I came across graffiti, it was through my brother, but simultaneously through like spray can art the book from New York. And I thought it was, it activated my mind, you know, I was still drawing with pencils and pens and markers and things like that and it kind of like was already what I was doing. They were spray painting the cartoons I was watching on the sides of subway cars. And my brother was already in the streets doing graffiti. And it just kind of evolved into that. It was something social for sure, but I was a very shy child when I was in elementary school. I was put in ESL class because they thought I didn’t speak English because I didn’t speak at all. So I mean, very minimal.
PM: So the way I would communicate was to draw, and art. I guess I felt like, thinking about how through middle school, I was very shy and graffiti and doing art was kind of a way to express and put some ideas down, I guess. So it started as one of those things where it’s like very personal and you’re in your room and then it became very social because everyone of your peers was doing it and they wanted to learn how to do it.
LPZ: Like, Oh! How’d you do that?
LPZ: I mean, one thing that I think is so interesting with graffiti is it can happen anywhere as opposed to drawing. Like you’re saying drawing with pens or paint, it’s like on paper, it’s in your bedroom. It’s like somewhere where you have a table and it’s kind of like, you’re there alone, versus graffiti, it can happen anywhere. And it’s like outside and other people are instantly gonna see it and kind of connect with it. And it also can happen on any surface, like it’s not contained to piece of paper. Right?
PM: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, when I was 11 or 12 years old, I wasn’t thinking about that, but, definitely, it’s definitely direct, right? It’s just like a piece of paper or pen, but it, like you said, the surfaces, you’re reacting to your surroundings and your landscape and you just put it down and it’s sort of interesting. You’re just like, it wasn’t there before and now it is, and people can see it.
LPZ: Right? Yeah. I mean, we’ll dive into your artwork in a minute, but like, do you feel like there are things from that early days of graffiti that you think about a lot in your current work or that really influenced the direction your work has gone? Or, yeah, as I said, we’ll do a deep dive in a minute, but even thinking about like, you’re layering with your pieces and stuff like that?
PM: Yeah, definitely because I understand, like when putting together or building a painting, I understand how it’s removed, how it’s added. So just like a painter would reduce his paint in a terpenoid or water, like if he’s using water-based paints. I’m thinking about stuff like that and that’s just through investigation of those materials as a young teen and a young adult. I think about that all, I think about like how it catapulted me into using other materials, right? Because at that time in the nineties, uh, spray paint was only found in hardware stores. You weren’t supposed to be making art from spray paint. That was an interesting revelation later on. I didn’t understand it then because it was just the culture of what they did to communicate that type of wall painting.
LPZ: So, and then you went to Art Center and I’m curious about what that was like? Coming from this background of doing graffiti, getting spray cans at the hardware store, there’s kind of this immediacy to it, but then being an art school, did you feel like it was like a formal training, or was graffiti something that you felt like you could carry into art school and kind of play with? Or did it feel like a division?
PM: I mean, at first, maybe like I felt that it couldn’t be, I mean, not that I was some kind of purist and I was like, oh, it should only be in the streets or whatever. I just never really thought about it. And I knew when I was going or attending Art Center, that it would be traditional techniques that would be learning or whatever. So, I was learning those traditional techniques, drawing and painting till face was blue. I mean, to be honest, it was always seeping into the art without me even trying to be conscious of it, my brother and his friends and my friends, they were still doing it. They were running the streets. My brother at the time was in and out of jail and a lot of my friends were, and they were, but my brother was stealing cars while I was at Art Center and we were still living in the same house. So he had a group of friends and there was a lot of activity at my house. So later on, I started painting them. I was not documenting them, but just kind of doing their portraits and his friends and him, and just thinking about their narratives, you know, and that was like 2002/2003, since we were painting and drawing figures, I felt, well, why wouldn’t I?
LPZ: Why not these figures? And was that in school, was that something that like, I don’t know, did your professors kind of take notice of that? Like bringing them into the work versus, I don’t know, like the random figure model that’s in school, you know, where it’s kind of like this distant person, but then you’re bringing in your friends and your family?
PM: I mean, for them, I think it’s kind of exotic and they kind of go, oh, well, like where do you live? And it’s like, they think you live like whatever they downloaded from the television or a movie, you know? My experience was like, my friend, Alan always says, it’s like a suburban hood kind of experience. But, these kind of narratives kind of pop into the paintings, maybe they were just thinking I was trying to be exotic or I’m not sure. They just kind of like, oh, okay. I don’t know when I started doing conceptual type pieces, they kind of like dismissed it in the nicest way possible. And they didn’t know how to critique it.
LPZ: What about like being in school and any early influences? Like, I know you talk about landscape a lot. Were there any artists that you saw at that time where you’re just like, oh, this is the thing like I need to, or even just like either on a technical level or conceptually?
PM: In my teens, I would say it was peers and other people, other artists, but then later on it was like, oh, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring did graffiti and that’s dope. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to add to the conversation and not copy someone. And it’s an interesting place to be when everyone is, not copying, but just kind of like trying to mimic and trying to do the master copy and then just show that as their work, even now, when people ask me, what are you or who are you looking at, or what books do you have? It’s just peers. I’m excited to see their energy, but what I’m looking at is right outside your windows, just the surroundings, the landscape. It’s a weird thing because I struggled with that because I go back and forth with that at school, you know?
PM: And because I knew what was getting rewarded at the time and it’s strange because my landscape paintings are a direct response in terms of like, trying to communicate other ways of creating a landscape. It’s more about the materials or responses to the landscape, direct surroundings and putting those materials together to build a landscape. So it’s finding new ways to communicate my surroundings and not just like a traditional way. And I guess I had to learn it a little bit too, like you mentioned, just kind of flip it.
LPZ: I want to talk more about the landscapes because you call them landscapes, first of all, which I think is really interesting. And like you said, you’re flipping that language of like looking at a Turner painting or even like a plein air. A lot of times when we think of landscape, we think of nature, we think of pensiveness and isolation and your work doesn’t do that or it doesn’t come from that same place of being an isolated person out in the pasture painting and so I think it’s really beautiful and interesting that you’re flipping the usage of that word into a more urban and congested setting and thinking about that as landscape.
PM: Yeah. I mean, it’s just also about observation too, right. And reacting to the changing landscape, the disappearing landscape or land, businesses, surfaces, colors, it’s all of that really. And trying to kind of merge those things together to create something that can speak to how fast everything is moving and just how things are in transition. And they aren’t cemented, they’re in this mixture of things right now in the mix of who knows if it’ll be another building in a few years or if the owners will change it, or if it’ll sell and they’ll knock it down.
LPZ: First of all, you talk about being observant and I read this quote that you said, “my job is to be an observer”. And I’m curious if you meant that just in terms of like the creation of these works, because they are so observational where you’re looking at the streets of our city and the stucco and the bars and the neon, and really incorporating those elements into the work, or is this like a broader, the role of an artist is to be an observer?
PM: I don’t know. I guess I just thought of myself first when I said that, but I guess it’s just being present. Like, it’s not really trying to mimic or copy a Palm tree or something. It’s like, these materials either have been like discounted or thrown away, and it’s just picking up on those objects or materials and placing them in a new light too. So people can enjoy them versus just pass them by and not pay them any mind.
LPZ: It’s interesting too and to go back to that idea of landscape and sort of subverting what a landscape is that, the way you kind of talk about your work and just the materials you’re using like, I think stucco, or even the bars that get applied, you talk about as like a bass relief kind of thing. And it’s a very art history term or even thinking about the stucco as a plaster-like surface, or the neon. Neon is obviously such an art historical, like modern art material. So again, re-purposing the hardware store, the stuff that all of our homes are built with and the city is built with. But then I don’t know, making this mirroring or parallel into like an art language or historical language. And it’s kind of the same shit. Like it’s all kind of the same.
PM: Yeah. Thinking about art as artifact, right? Like if this stuff was buried and uncovered, like, what is this? What is ‘parking in the rear’ being like at this Salvadorian restaurant or with a certain kind of stucco finish and security bars or whatever. So with that same interest, I’m kind of thinking about it like that.
LPZ: So, okay. Walk us through, like your job is to be an observer and thinking about, I mean, I get the sense you’re type of person that’s just like doing your day and then you’re like, “oh look at that thing, I gotta take a picture”. You’re kind of always observing, so it’s not necessarily like, this is my observation hour, but just like, as you’re going through your day or your life, can you talk about some of the things you’re like looking for in the streets or little moments that like really spark your mind into thinking “oh, this is the thing”?
PM: Yeah. I’m pretty organic in that sense. And that’s not always a good thing because, you know, when are you turned off? When can you really shut down? But, I don’t really look, I just kind of run into things when I see something and there’s a reaction to it and I think about something else that I combine or that’s kind of like this, and combining things. There’s a lot of notes on my iPhone where I’m already building paintings with text in terms of like, explaining to myself what I’m seeing in my head so that later I can come back to it. I’m actually working on paintings. I like to have two or three paintings going on at once. And that’s already a lot to deal with to try to like figure out what the next one’s going to be. And it happens fast. It’s like, okay, let me write this down in my notes and then add photos too so that I can reactivate those thoughts later on. There’s a lot of sketching too here and there, just so that I can remember placements and notes and things like that and draw details. But they’re kind of loose when I’m combining these things and putting them down like that. It’s not rigid and like, “this is how it has to be”. It’s just components, putting them together later is what I do.
LPZ: Yeah. I was curious about that. Like how much are you kind of pre-planning these compositions? Like it could literally be like you cut the side of this building out and just like brought it into the studio, but in the other way, in another sense, they feel so specific. And so composed that I was curious how much of them are intuitive placements of these elements and how much are kind of like, oh, oh, like this banner with this thing in this corner?
PM: I mean, some of it is composed and I kind of feel like it’s worked out in my head. A lot of the times I’m just going forward directly on the panel and reacting to certain colors and/or thinking about tile with this kind of wording on a banner next to it and then something I’ve never really tried before on top of that. Sometimes a piece of material or something I see in the city will activate what my next painting is about. That’s sometimes worked out50/60 percent in my head and with notes and stuff and then sometimes it’s like 30% and I’m just going for it and figuring it out, investigating on the panel.
LPZ: Yeah. And then there’s also this layering. And I know, like, you’ve talked about the way that you build these layers. You add, you take away, you use like a sprayer, like a water, what are those? Like the high power water to kind of like remove?
PM: Pressure washer.
LPZ: Pressure washer! and that’s kind of mimicking the process of like graffiti removal, but also like we kind of skipped past this earlier, this idea of history being layered in the city too, and that’s something that you, I think are really looking at. Can you speak to that a little bit?
PM: Yeah. It’s something I think about when I paint. I don’t try to be too stiff about it, but with the layering I’m actually thinking about it. Like, What was there at once before? And then I could use that as a foundation or a base for a color field or something I start with, and then I’ll catch a tag or there’s a gang that’s in that area. I’ll put that down and that will jumpstart the painting. And it’ll inform what goes on top of it. What’s the area that’s kind of like it in the three cities over? What are the connections between El Sereno and Alhambra? Or the groups of people like in Lincoln Heights? In rival gangs? All of it is in conversation and it’s all kind of a house inform making the painting and that layering kind of idea.
LPZ: Yeah. Do you think of it too in a way of preserving those stories or histories?
PM: Yeah, I think so. But not like photojournalism. It’s more a reality that isn’t photography. It’s like if they put together an exhibition of Los Angeles, they’re going to show photography and that’s not the only reality that should be shown. It should be something else that moves past that. And that’s not my job, but that’s just what I’m interested in.
LPZ: It’s an interesting connection with photography and documentation and photojournalism, because it is almost like a record of this time and place of like, oh, that store owner paid for this banner and that banner printing is like a specific thing that wasn’t happening 40 years ago, or it was a different material, you know?
PM: Even the introduction of LED signs, like there’s LED signage in my paintings now because it’s a cheaper version of neon. So a lot of my neon fabricators, like I’ve worked with one neon fabricator in Commerce and obviously before that, I was working with other people and they were definitely affected by printed banners and led signs. So it changes the look and aesthetic of windows storefronts. So it’s all of that. Like the processes, the way someone composes their store or what is available to them and cheap? What can they afford?
LPZ: Yeah, totally. I’m curious too, I actually studied graphic design in undergrad and I do feel like you have a really graphic sensibility and like you’re looking at advertising which is also just the language of kind of existing in an urban city, I think?
PM: I worked as an art director when I got out of school just to make money and stuff like that. So I worked on movie posters and before that I was doing a lot of record covers, a lot of underground rap albums and working at rap magazines. So you definitely had to have some kind of design sense in those situations. So thinking about that and using that cause it’s in my toolbox. But I’m also interested in something that’s not the anti-advertising, but the flip side of a community advertising or aesthetic. And that’s where a lot of my work is informed. It’s just folks trying to advertise their business in the best way they know how. So I try to keep that stuff in mind and the processes of things being printed and made. I’m thinking about what’s the step before that, the design process. So I’m trying to switch gears and put that hat on and really observe and take all that in, but then also keeping it in mind, what are they limited to versus something polished? That’s all advertising that we understand via magazine and really zooming in and seeing what that looks like and how I can present that, how I can subvert that or, or just like flip that and kind of abstract that.
LPZ: And there’s this idea too. Everyone always says art is life or like art reflects life. And I feel like there’s something about your work where it’s reflecting other people’s lives or it’s like reflecting the larger kind of city of L.A. and the diaspora. I feel like there’s something where you’re almost, again, back to the idea of observational, like you’re kind of letting the city pass through you in the work, but how much are you also thinking about your own kind of biography and your own identity in the work? Or is it more of just like a faithful reproduction of what’s around you?
PM: I think it’s both. Sometimes the painting is about being observant and reacting to the land and letting the land provide, right? Like just letting it flow. And this is about a specific area or two or three places. And then sometimes it turns into something where I’m letting it start as that. And then I run into a space about family members. I’m like driving down Temple and my aunts had a market there in Filipino town and so then I mark the site of that down and then I think about the photos that my father gives me. There’s pictures of him when he was six years old picking cotton. So there’s a lot of history in that and me wanting to post that. I literally take those photos, scan them, turn them into cyan prints really. And thinking about the sun, I stick them in areas of the painting where there would be like a window where there’s neon and thinking about how the sun strips color away from prints in the window. And all you see is the cyanotype. The surfaces I create are like a starting point for me to negotiate my family, my upbringing.
LPZ: But I love how that also just mirrors the makeup of L.A. and like this thing of like the flowers on the stucco, on the thing with the banner, that was the last owners, but it’s still here, but like, you know, it’s just so much of, I think there’s a really cool connection with that idea of hybridity is just like the way our city’s kind of hodgepodge together.
PM: Yeah. And it’s something I try to tap into and I’m familiar with, I think growing up with that.
LPZ: Can you talk about the figures that you often have in the work?
PM: So they’re from Central Mexico, they’re unearthed and it’s well-preserved color murals in Central Mexico. Cacaxtla specifically. And it’s an archaeological site that’s all murals and the style that they’re painted in was pretty much a hybrid of all of those styles and I was drawn to it and thinking about those murals painted on the surfaces of stores and spaces in Los Angeles. I used to paint in the early-2000’s when I was at Art Center and I was trying to make extra money with my friend Leo Iguerte. We used to paint with street scapers and they were muralists from East L.A. and we would paint at their studio and we were working on the Santa Monica mural. At that time they could take sections and they could install them at the space. So, those guys were painting Mayan figures and they had painted the, which is now the East West Bank and Lincoln Heights, the side of the building where it’s representing a Mayan scene, a more contemporary family scene. And I think about those surfaces, the murals that went up in Los Angeles in the past and what they would look like if they had, they do get tagged on painted over, what stripping those Central Mexican murals from their history and placing them into a contemporary kind of context or surface, taking brown bodies from that area and placing them on the surface or the surfaces of an L.A. kind of a storefront.
LPZ: Right. I mean, there’s also this kind of metaphorical thing about erasure and that too, right. Of like these histories kind of being masked or covered or histories that aren’t as celebrated as they really should be in, in L.A. or in colonial society at large.
PM: Yeah, because that’s definitely like, whoever wins the war gets to tell the history, right? And the way it’s told is whatever way they want to tell it. So it’s definitely about a lot of that too. When I’m thinking about and building those layers, I’m thinking about that too. And the colors I’m using speak to certain colors that the city might be using, but it also is a certain color that is you might see more of now than the color underneath it like maybe 10 years ago.
LPZ: Thinking too on this idea of histories and how you were saying, whoever wins the war, tells the history and connecting that maybe to your cake series. First of all, I want to talk about those. This is a little bit of shift from your landscape work but painting on cakes. Can you tell us about that process before we dive into the history connection?
PM: Yeah. They are all paint on panel. I dress them up like a cake surface, I paint the portrait on that and yeah, they look like edible cakes, but they’re just a sculptural paint and ceramic.
LPZ: So it also is mimicry, right? Of the city or this thing, this ubiquitous thing and the sheet cake in particular. It’s not like a Milk Bar cake or whatever.
PM: Yeah, it’s a real specific, right? And a lot of people go oh, well, how does that relate to your other work? Or how’s it connected? And so, well, these are the cakes inside one of the pieces or the landscapes that I’m painting.
LPZ: Totally. I can totally see that.
PM: Yeah. And building those, the idea was painting people that have been, again, discounted in history that I think that need to be celebrated. But the reason that I had started these, this kind of series of cakes, it was just figuring out how to apply paint in new ways. And I was thinking about Wayne Thiebaud and Lucian Freud and how they’re pretty much like trying to make the paint sculptural and protrude out of the painting almost. And I’m thinking, well, how can I add paint in different ways, different tools? I was thinking about these sheet cakes that people would get photos printed on and things like that and how the frosting sits on top. So I was literally putting thick, heavy body paint in the fosters and building paintings like that and figuring out how to get it in squeeze bottles and squeezing it on top of things and cake-frosters and putting ceramics on it. And so it’s about that, the investigation of materials and how to apply paint in different ways.
LPZ: Hearing you talk about it, it is so similar to the landscape paintings and picking up the stucco, reproducing that surface, and then the way you apply ceramic flowers to the surface to mimic, you know, it’s like same process. But the one thing that stands out is the identifiability of the figures that you’re painting. These are historical figures that, as you say, we need to be talking about more, celebrating more, and there’s a certain identification of like, “oh, I know that guy, I know who that is”. So it’s a little different than the landscape where it almost is like an abstraction of the things around us versus this idea of locatability right?
PM: It’s definitely celebrating people that need to be celebrated more, but in a way I’m trying to be useful also in like, presenting those people in a new light, that’s not so old or traditional so that they can be almost updated and talked about in 2021.
LPZ: Well, it’s also the idea of representation, which you’re really good at, you know? And it’s such a different thing than recreating stucco or getting neon fabricated or the type of painting you do on the landscapes, which you do incorporate figures sometimes in that work. But the faithful reproduction of somebody’s likeness is like such a different way to paint.
PM: Yeah. And I’m a stickler for that and I’m not really like, I draw this stuff out and I’m not really a person that likes to project and then just paint on top of. It’s like something I work through, figuring things out that way. So it’s all of that, like adding to the piece of the Frederick Douglas. It was took me so long. I had that thing in my kitchen, just like in my living room, painting on that thing for a long time. And I was, at four o’clock in the morning, painting on that thing and it was like he’s looking at me, he’s like, “no struggle, no progress”, I swear to God. I was exhausted. Like this is part of the process, you know?
LPZ: Wow. Because he’s like, particularly difficult?
PM: That dude has, like, I mean, his, his bone structure definitely and his face is like three or four people in one, absolutely. His cheekbones, His eyebrow bridge, his hair. All of it is something else for sure. Because he’s the most photographed person in that time, Black man in that time. He made it a point that he wanted to be represented and shown as a writing scholar, you know, being productive. And I was thinking about all of that and I was like, this needs to be right.
LPZ: Sure. You have to represent it in a way.
PM: Or why even do it, right? It’s a portrait.
LPZ: That’s amazing. That’s so interesting. So you make paintings and also prints that are these Pee Chee folders, which I fully remember from being a kid and having those, as a similar way of trying to interject something into an educational setting and thinking about conversations that like kids need to be having or something. But, do you mind just explaining that series in case listeners haven’t seen?
PM: Yeah, so like in the 1950s-60’s, it was a folder that was very affordable and you would just put your school papers in it. And the illustration that was on the front and back were kind of idealized version of America at the time and it’s just something I wanted to update. I did the first one in 2005 and that was when I was still at Art Center. It was a print, it was a drawing. And then I turned it into a print and the visuals were all kind of like generic, just like a guy chasing, cause this is stuff I knew, it was happening with my friends and my brother and his friends. So like these are things that actually happened and you know, we didn’t have photos of that happening. So I drew that out and it was one of those things they couldn’t critique at school. So it was just like, “what are you talking about? You know, the uprisings over like everyone’s cool”. Fast forward, I picked up the folders again or the body of work and I was doing prints of it 2007-8, but it picked up back 2013-14, because now we’re getting video footage and high resolution photos of the young teen that was shot and killed by police or Sheriffs or whatever. Right. So now I’m like, oh wow, these like these narratives. And for me it was kind of a way of thinking about cementing these happenings in another way, kind of like updating what kids are going through. Because when I was young, there was police at our high school and I didn’t understand that. I was just like, What? What does that have to do with anything? And then that’s how the first folder came up. It was about youth and authority. And that’s what the Pee Chee folder was investigating, the scene was changing. They’re no longer playing basketball or running track, they’re getting chased by the police and they were just trying to go to school or just, you know, they’re trying to criminalize a lot of things. So moving forward, it was about kind of like, now it’s not generic anymore. These people have names. This actually happened. Walter Scott was running from the police when he got shot in the back. All of it.
LPZ: And because now we have the technology to capture and everyone has like a camera in their pocket. I feel like we didn’t know the names in the 90’s. We didn’t have the names in the same way as we do now. And now it’s like the whole world sees these kids. They see the pictures, they see the video and it’s not generic anymore.
PM: No, not at all. I mean, there’s actual happenings now, they actually happen because someone captured it with a video because everyone has video on their phone. Someone had DM’d me this meme or something that they had said that the only thing that changed between 91, the beating of Rodney King, and now is just the resolution, the quality. Also when Eric Garner was choked by the detective, it was a crazy thing, but he had a football Jersey on and he was in a plain clothes officer. Right. And he was harassing him cause he was selling loose cigarettes and it looked like he was tackling him. Obviously Eric Garner wasn’t resisting or anything and that’s what sparked the idea for the football scene in the Pee Chee folder of him getting tackled down like that.
LPZ: And it has gotten more specific. There are specific people now that are memorialized in your work.
PM: Yeah. Even the investigations of the Sheriff’s department and all of it is just real specific, right? And they have whole articles on what gangs and how many gangs and who’s being like what percentage of, and the Sheriff’s department knows about these gangs and they’re compliant, you know? So it’s also those things that I’m interested in. Now the Pee Chee folders are about that.
LPZ: And so, and then so re representing that through these folders, and then you actually distribute these on like high school campuses, right? And you give them to the youth. Talk about that and again, back to this idea of inserting a history.
PM: Me connecting with youth is something where I’m trying to build a bridge and get them work somehow, like a print or whatever because they’re not trying to check out my latest show or they’re not Googling, they’re not on the websites that figure out what shows they want to go to this weekend. So I’m speaking to them in a way, but I’m not really getting to them. So it was a way to bridge the gallery or my studio to them and just try to insert something into their hands. And even if they don’t really download it right away, it’s just something that sits in their backpack or at the very least is useful in carrying their papers. But I should do another one soon. And I did a drawing of a Sheriff’s department. When I’m writing on these folders too, I’m writing information that is not, you know, like, so I’m writing a lot on some of these folders like you would when rewriting notes or someone’s phone number. And so, um, it’s a way of getting that information kind of pass along.
LPZ: Yeah. Like what kind of like information? Just about the specifics of like the gangs?
PM: Yeah, it was like 18 active sheriff gangs or 13, whatever it might be. Just, those are the things I’m trying to insert in some of the pieces and the folders when I’m, when I’m passing them along.
LPZ: And just getting it into the conversation. I think I read a quote or I dunno, I’ve been looking at your work all day yesterday, but you said something like I make work for other people or it was about how you stopped graffiti because it was too like individual and that you’re really trying to make work for other people.
PM: Yeah. I think it’s just, in a way, now that I’m looking at it, I think it was like a lot of things. The spray paint was getting to me. I can just be painting all day with spray paint. But, at times like being useful, graffiti was one of those one man sports and it was like about your name or whatever you can manipulate the spray paint really well. It was definitely informative, but I was kind of wanting a little bit more just from, I guess, pushing myself, I guess don’t think about other things and again, just trying to be useful.
LPZ: Yeah, I know your neon works and the Pee Chee works and the portraits, there’s like a certain type of specificity to it where the landscapes can be a little bit more abstract or that’s like less specific kind of what I said before. Like, do you think about this idea of usefulness or kind of like engaging with the community? And do you separate that in these bodies of work?
PM: I think I can think about it often because it’s about communication for me, but like I said, it’s just different speeds I’m working at. The neons, all of it is kind of like, thinking about the passer-by or like the community where the neons are presented, where I’m taking them from they’re presented in the window storefronts and it’s kind of like graffiti, because I think that graffiti informs that too, like my past and just thinking about making work that someone might see or not see, but it’s adding to the community. So, they’re just different speeds. The Pee Chee folders, the neons can be very specific, and the landscapes are very subtle toned down and they’re not so specific. They’re just kind of hints of that in it. So, I think they’re just different levels.
LPZ: Yeah. And I think so much of it goes back to this idea of being the observer and even the text for the neons you’re like pulling from the world, like it’s not invented texts so much, it’s protest slogans or texts from writers or poets that you read, right? And then representing that.
PM: Yeah. I mean, cause it’s the language. Protest language is from people. So it’s contemporary and it’s new and it’s something I want to present. And in that sense it is useful because now it’s seen in different spaces and then also useful in the sense of like, it can become a digital protest sign, you know? And those things just happened organically and it’s just some of the stuff I think about, some of this stuff just happens and it’s like, oh yeah, no shit, that that’s actually dope so let me take that a step further and generate or make lawn signs or, you know, whatever that can bridge that. I mean, I don’t live there. It’s just something where I like to kind of, um, visit often, you know, and just kind of like, okay, I need to make this art practice more than just about what I’m doing in the studio, I need to get out of that studio.
LPZ: I love the idea though, of thinking about other spaces for work to circulate in other than the gallery and the museum, it’s like, okay, now I have this sign that’s on my front lawn and it’s like sending a message. But also these things that people outside of the art world can, they’re approachable. You know what I mean? They’re like things in the kind of consciousness that I think are often can be so terrifying to people that don’t know how to look at it or what it is, or even the spaces a museum I think is intimidating to a lot of people. But your work is almost like this olive branch or like welcomes people in because it is part of the consciousness.
PM: Yeah. I mean, I grew up not knowing anyone in the art world. I was just trying to figure this thing out and it’s something that I’m still trying to figure out, but the people that are around me or just people like my family members, my brother, friends. My brother drives forklifts and his wife works at Whole Foods and they’re just everyday folks and I talk to them just as much as I do other artists, peers and things like that. So I don’t want to just like live in this one world where I’m just talking about art all day and different techniques or whatever. We might be talking about concepts and ideas, and I want to extend the olive branch out to them and make them feel like they can be in that world too and not compartmentalize things and they just live in one space.
LPZ: Yeah. I love that. I think that’s honestly so important for art to do that. And it’s really exciting to see you as an artist, kind of take that on as like, I want to be a person who communicates. I mean, so much of art is about communication and just the systems of the art world really separate us often from the people that we really want to be talking to.
PM: Yeah. I dunno what it is. I think it’s like a lot of people shy away from it. Artists shy away from it because it could look a certain way or it could just, you know, be presented wrong and they just, they’re not into that. Maybe at another point in their lives they could, or, you know, different time at their lives. They can kind of dig into that.
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LPZ: I want to maybe back it up a little and talk a little more generally about your studio practice and habits, and just thinking a little more generally, like your thoughts about that, and maybe piggybacking off this idea of making art that engages in the world around us. I’m curious about that word practice and like how you think about that as an artist and kind of what that looks like for you on the day to day.
PM: I mean, I’m pretty militant about it. There’s an urgency there. I’ve always been like that, I don’t know what it is. There’s something exciting about things that weren’t there before and now it is because of my notes and like all that’s crazy to me. It never gets old. So it’s like, there’s just like things internally too, that you just want to see if it’ll end up that way or what will it end up like or how different will it look than what I had first kind of sketched out. It’s magic and sometimes it’s just kind of magical where you go into the studio and you feel like you want to just finish that, try to finish it off, or you know it’s to a point where the piece is just like, okay, I see it, I know where I’m gonna go with it now. And there’s definitely hard times in the studio, you know, where you don’t know what the hell you are doing or there’s failures, lots of failures. But all of it’s exciting to me, I mean, easier said when it’s done, like everything’s done, but, it’s something and then just the actual craft of it too, you know, like, my last name is Martinez, so they want to understand my experience and then I never am able to talk about the craft, but the craft has been with me for a long time ever since kindergarten, I can remember drawing and trying to locate and really kind of hone in that innocence and remembering what that glue smelled like when I was in kindergarten and putting on the transparent tissue paper onto the bottle that I gifted my mother for Mother’s Day. I’m trying to really tap into that. And like that leave me alone, I’m going to work on this thing and then we’ll see what happens, you know? I want to be excited about it. You know, why come to the studio if it doesn’t feel like you want to try and, fail, succeed, learn.
LPZ: How do you work through those moments of failure or those moments where you feel like something’s not clicking or you’re not excited about it?
PM: I work through all that. It’s definitely tough at the time, but I say that now that I’m embracing all of it, but when I was broken, it had to work in certain times or I had to make it work because the materials were so expensive or whatever. It was tough but right now specifically, I feel like I’m in a groove, so the materials have been established and I’m just like experimenting and investigating all of that. Just getting there was a tough part, right? Like figuring out what the vocabulary was, the palette, what I can take from, why I was taking from it and using it so that I feel good about establishing the materials and the vocabulary. So, I’m just going for it. That’s where I’m at right now.
LPZ: I love that. And like working within that language that you’ve established and now it’s like, okay, I have this language now. Like how do I become fluent at that language? Because I just made this up. Like, we’re just, you know, inventing.
PM: Yeah. And then I’m trying to understand that I don’t understand what I’m going to make next. Or it’s like I’m not fluent in it yet, so I’m still kind of practicing it and not trying to own it or be the master of whatever, just trying to make room for that.
LPZ: Right. And like the idea about keeping to expand and not get stuck, recreating the same thing, but keeping the experimentation. And I feel like the observational aspect of you and the work you make is just inherently a way to keep it fresh because you’re always seeing new things that can feed into the work.
PM: Yeah. And there’s always new things popping up even during the pandemic and the protests last year the city looked very different. All the businesses were boarded up. So that’s just the timestamp, like, okay, let me board up the business I was painting or that storefront I was painting. So there’s always new materials that I’m looking at because the landscape’s always changing.
LPZ: So this is a very new thing in your life being a new father, right? You just had a baby, like, so thinking about that, I don’t know this kind of a forced connection, but thinking about that as like this totally new experience too, that I’m sure affects the way you’re thinking about what you’re making and affects your schedule of making. I’m sure as well.
PM: Yeah. Like, you know, it’s exciting to be a father and we’re getting through it, but it’s definitely tough, but the reward is amazing. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, it’s weird to be like, thinking about work all the time and just, and I say work, I don’t mean like, I have to do this. It’s just like, you know, it’s just something that occupies your mind.
LPZ: And as we established, you never really turned that off. It’s always on.
PM: Yeah. But now it’s like, you know, I’m very logical in a sense of like, you can’t think about that right now. She’s wanting, you know, Maya, my, my child is wanting attention. She needs her diaper changed and that’s kind of cool. It’s something that I embrace. She’s only two months old, so she gets older, definitely bring her to the studio because I have my own schedule. And what does that look like? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a playpen and there’s whatever, but I’m ready for it. And I’m embracing it. Me and my partner, Patty are definitely embracing the whole thing.
LPZ: That’s so beautiful. I love that. So baby, two months. I’m curious too, if some of what we talked about, like trying to get the folders to the high school students or talking about your own childhood, do you feel like having a child has brought up some of those ideas of like your own childhood or influences or things that you really want her to be aware of now, like in her childhood, in this current landscape of the city?
PM: Yeah. I want definitely the great things about my childhood, definitely want her to embrace or at least try. I think, what, what is it like Reading Rainbow was like really amazing? Like when I was small and it was something that they brought up in elementary school. So I like play an episode or even just the theme music and she likes it and things like that, you know, like let’s see what she thinks about that. But then also I see myself presenting things to her that I’m into that I’m actually thinking about in my work and how that can kind of challenge her in different times in her life. Hopefully she can get a broader scope of things or obviously I’m going to learn from her. Maybe she can learn from me when she’s in the studio, in my studio and watching me. She’s very observant, she’s definitely for two months old, she’s always looking around and wanting to see what’s going on. So hopefully I can position her so when I’m working, she could just hang out, she’ll watch and hopefully she just finds a little bit of peace in that or whatever she gets from it and the things we talk about I can picture, you know, definitely.
LPZ: That’s so exciting. I’m excited to see. I’m like curious to see if, you know, once she starts drawing or things like that, if those marks enter your work somehow because that’s all part of your observational thing, right?
PM: Absolutely. I mean, you know, like who knows how it will enter the work? She’ll always be around me and I want to be present in her life and have her around and not just have someone watch her and then I’m going to go to the studio. It’s about, like I mentioned, mixing those worlds together.
LPZ: You have a show coming up at the Contemporary Museum in Tucson?
PM: Tucson Museum of Art, yeah.
LPZ: Yeah. Tell us about the show.
PM: This show was supposed to happen like three years ago to be honest, but as everyone knows the pandemic, like everything, things got pushed back. So Jeremy Mikolajczak hit me up like two and a half, three years ago. He’s the CEO over there at the museum. And he said, hey, I want to do a show with you and we started piecing it together. It was supposed to go down, I think 2019 possibly and the show was one of those things where it was kind of the greatest hits or like a show where they would take from collectors and show. I was definitely excited about that because some of the work gets done and then it gets put in a box and I don’t even get to show it sometimes. But then it evolved into like a response of 2020, the work that was made during that time. And thinking about it in that context and relating it to my upbringing and just the things that we had talked about early on, graffiti, mark making, and like things that were around me. The 92 uprising, how to relate it to what’s happening in 2020. All of it is real specific to this show. And, yeah. It evolved into that because we just didn’t want to do a show that was, you know, take a look at my portfolio. So it has works that speak to those themes, like speaking to 1992 and 2020. I think I enjoy that and more than just putting up work. The exhibition has all the bodies of work that we talked about, you know?
LPZ: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s really interesting to see how people work during 2020 and how artists were able to work or not able to work or, I mean, we’re still so much in the pandemic, but then with just the uprisings and like the election, I mean, it was just like so much flying. It was hard to function and, and let alone make a museum show. Right?
PM: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s, it’s weird because I’m kind of used to that turmoil, you know? I kind of grew up with that and how do you function in that? You know, and I’m kind of used to it. So I just unfortunately felt kind of familiar. So it was just kind of like navigating that. But it felt familiar creating in a time where, you know, it was just a lot going on. I was able to work during the pandemic. I had just moved into my new studio in Huntington park. So I’m lucky that that went down and I was able to work on this show and it’s definitely a great feeling to present the show finally after the times and what we needed to go through, I guess, just to get to where it’s at. So it can be an interesting exhibition versus just like this is what I’ve done in the past year or two, three years.
LPZ: I mean, that’s cool too. You know, to be where you’re at and have almost like a retrospective of sorts. Like it’s exciting to be a young artist, but then it’s like looking back at your work. I mean, that’s cool too. It’s just a portfolio.
PM: I definitely appreciate it, for real. But it’s just, for me, it’s just like a response, you know, like it’s just new work, I’m responding I think in real time to certain things and I want to exhibit that work or talk about that work or show people that work because I hadn’t been able to show that work because of the pandemic, you know, like it’s– I guess there’s an urgency to do that. And if I’m showing something that’s like three or four years old that doesn’t really speak to anyone today because it was a lot! Like last year was a lot. So it’s like that stuff is still fresh in people’s minds.
LPZ: Totally well, it’s also this idea of like, thinking about your work as timestamped, right? Or having, as we talked about, the landscapes as being like what this building in the city looks like today, like next week it might be something else, you know? But thinking about the people that you’re representing in your work and so much of current events and politics are like funneling directly into your work. And so it’s almost like the pace of news and how it just keeps going and people like forget stuff that happens six months ago.
PM: That’s true. And then some of the work speaks to that for sure. Yeah. I don’t know. Then sometimes you need time, you need time to measure that. A lot of the work that we exhibit is like, hopefully it’s, some of it helps too, you know, so that they you’re able to unpack a little bit of last year or even something three or four years ago, something you forgot about.
LPZ: And then seeing that like, oh, this is still… Okay. You know, and like even connecting it to like the 92, right. It’s like, these are patterns that are consistently happening. Like they’re not fixed. There’s a reason why these things feel familiar again because it’s like, oh yeah, we lived through that already. And we’re still in it. Like the sheriff is still corrupt.
PM: And that’s something me and Jeremy were talking about. There’s kind of a connection. As a reoccurring kind of thing that happens, you know, 1992 / 2020, these things are happening when I was a teenager and they’re still happening when I’m 41 years old, you know? So I’m trying to show the starting point of that and also that things are happening still there.
LPZ: Yeah. Right. But in such a connective way too, like bringing people into the work and into the conversation, which I think can be really hard for artists to do, or it’s not like a didactic kind of political message, but it’s really, I think you do something that’s so welcoming. And part of that is like reflecting the city back to people or reflecting the environment back to people that kind of brings them into that conversation.
PM: Yeah. I mean, I think with one of the neons that I created, it was a direct response to the photographer, L.A. Times staff photographer, Kirk McCoy, and he photograph one of the buildings in 92 uprising with someone directly spray painting like it was someone that lived in the city and look what you created, which is the name of the exhibition, right? And it’s like reflecting that in a new way, which is the neon using the colors from that photo to influence the colors in neon and thinking about it like that, connecting those two times but then also it relates to last year right now. All of it and just the things that are making yeah.
LPZ: A hundred percent kind of collapsing those narratives together.
LPZ: The Carla podcast is produced by contemporary art review Los Angeles and meet Lindsay Preston Zappas with production assistance from PJ Shahamat, and Alitzah Oros. Joel P west composed our theme music. The podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts and we also archive and post every episode, along with episode transcripts on our website at contemporaryartreview.la. If you’re a regular listener of the podcast, consider giving us a review and rating us on iTunes. I ask you this every podcast, give it a try, check it out, write us a review, drop us a note. We so appreciate the feedback and continuing conversation with all of our listeners. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.