Patrick Martinez, the first speaker in the Oxy Arts speaker series, spoke to a crowd of around 40 students, professors and community members Feb. 7 in Choi Auditorium. Last semester, Oxy Arts asked the Occidental student body for suggestions via email for who to include in their speaker line-up, and students recommended Martinez. Martinez, a Los Angeles based multimedia artist whose works include paintings, drawings, sculpture and neon, presented a slideshow of his work and shared the inspirations behind the pieces. His current exhibition, entitled “All Season Portfolio,” is currently on display at The Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown until Feb. 18. Martinez will return to Occidental this spring to present an overview of his work in Weingart Gallery from March 23 to April 26.
The intention of the Oxy Arts Speaker series, according to Oxy Arts Director Deena Selenow, is to bring together a diverse group of multidisciplinary artists whose work specifically addresses social issues that affect contemporary LA. She notes that many of the artists’ works, such as Martinez’s, speak to the interactions between Los Angeles communities. Another important theme the works address involves navigating one’s own identity in relation to the city’s narrative. The events are always free and open to the public, in an attempt to make the art as accessible as possible. Selenow hopes that people will come away from these events with a new vision of art as a form of political action and communication.
The Charlie James Gallery describes Martinez as a son of Los Angeles. Martinez graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 2005. The slideshow during his presentation opened with photos Martinez had captured of small moments he experienced while traversing the city. Some of his photos included a table of stuffed bears wrapped in cellophane, ready for Valentine’s Day in Lincoln Heights, or a mural of cake outside a bakery in Boyle Heights. Martinez uses the photos to capture what he calls, “the motifs of the city,” that he can then translate into pieces.
“I’m trying to build my specific visual vocabulary of LA. I’m looking for a kind of silent poetry,” Martinez said.
One piece, titled “los angeles flowers still life,” features ceramic and neon light roses atop a stucco wall. His frequent trips downtown as a young child inspired Martinez. He recalled the illuminated streets lit by signs advertising “Open,” “Laundry-mat” or “Cash.” Martinez noted how these roses encompass a kind of juxtaposition that he finds ever-present in LA: beauty grows in unexpected places.
“The medium is this dirt or mud, and you’re creating this kind of opposite like flowers. It’s this duality I’m interested in,” Martinez said.
Martinez cites his most well-known works — Pee-Chee folders — as avenues for social commentary. Pee-Chee folders are inexpensive, cardstock folders, featuring various sports figures that Martinez had as a school boy. He puts his own political twist to Pee-Chees by replacing the traditional sports figures with victims of police brutality. One folder features Eric Garner, who died after being choked by an officer in 2014; another folder depicts Walter Scott, who was shot by police in North Carolina in 2015. Martinez’s Pee-Chees have received a considerable amount of attention and have even generated responses from the families of the individuals he depicts. Martinez was surprised when the father of Johnathan Santellana, who police fatally shot and who Martinez illustrated on a lime-green Pee-Chee folder, reached out to Martinez to order a print.
“It was the last thing I’d think I’d hear from, their families, but I was glad they weren’t pissed off. They were really interested in what I was doing and said, ‘Oh keep on going, keep on doing this.’ It’s awesome. It’s better than any art review or pat on the back,” Martinez said.
As his presentation concluded, Martinez gave some of his Pee-Chee folders to those who attended the speaker’s presentation. The folders featured Martinez’s first paintings of Eric Garner. Selenow noted how the contrast between the modern images of police brutality and traditional tri-color Pee-Chee folder styles creates a political statement, taking traditional Americana and reflecting what America is like today.
“I see [Martinez’s work] very much that you’re looking at what’s happening now in this country, especially with injustices against black and brown people, and then thinking what it means to be a Latino artist working in fine galleries, but walking down the streets, a police officer may not see you that way,” Selenow said.