words by Tricia Khutoretsky
artwork appears courtesy of Patrick Martinez
I met up with mixed media artist Patrick Martinez at his Los Angeles studio this past July. As an art curator, I prefer to meet artists in person before planning a show with them because a glimpse into their personal work space is always revealing. When something is handcrafted, the magic is in the complexity of how it came to be. So for me, the artist is as interesting as the work itself, because what they communicate visually is filtered through their life experiences and personal perspective. If effective, it can speak to diverse people through a common thread. This is key to contemporary art - a reflection on cultural and societal trends in our time that connect and divide us all in various ways. As a contemporary artist, Martinez reinterprets what is ordinary in a variety of media including paint, neon and sculpture. The result is art that is present, immediate and familiar.
Martinez, who is part Filipino, Mexican, and Native American, was born and raised in Los Angeles and uses his culture and the downtown neighborhoods of L.A. as his primary sources of inspiration. Working mainly through mixed mediums of neon-lit sculptures and paintings, he re-arranges words and ideas seen on everyday street and store signs into more thought provoking ones, reinventing images to evoke new meanings. Martinez often refers to his art as “making the familiar new”.
At his studio, Patrick pulls out various works and concepts for me to view. One piece is a replica of a grocery store birthday cake, white frosting with light blue and pink airbrushed embellishments. It emulates one of those highly processed cakes you can custom order with a digital image printed on it. Patrick’s has Tupac Shakur’s portrait on it and is titled “Happy Birthday Makaveli.” The piece is unnervingly realistic, as if you could swipe your finger across the top and taste the sugary icing. I ask Patrick why he chose Tupac. “Well, Tupac is kind of a mainstream, modern icon… like Che Guevara, a familiar face that represents a counterculture of some sort. And he’s known as a thug, he’s hard. I liked the idea of putting him on a fluffy pink cake,” he says.
Martinez discovered hip-hop culture in his teenage years, and graffiti in particular formed a basis for his inspiration. After completing his BA in fine art at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, he began to blend his hip-hop roots with a unique approach to tackling social issues. Firmly grounded in the idea that daily inspiration is everywhere, he often depicts his hometown city in a variety of his work and focuses on the underlying messages he gathers from his surroundings. What results is a blend of familiarity and lyrical energy that create a clever, resounding effect for the viewer. His art is accessible but complex, often like the best kind of hip-hop.
When it comes to contemporary art and understanding its a message, take a cue from Martinez and think about it in the same way as music. If it speaks to you, it’s because there is something worth listening to, something you can personally recognize and connect to. Tupac’s face on a birthday cake makes for solid contemporary art because it means something based on symbols and concepts we all recognize. It was created from one artist’s individual perspective, for you to interpret… and the depth of connection is completely up to you. Take it or leave it. Have a personal opinion, that’s the point. As far as Martinez’s work goes, I’m into it. I’ll be showing Martinez’s works at my gallery, Public Functionary this Fall .