T-Files 031: Patrick Martinez

Patrick Martinez is an exceedingly talented Angeleno whose creative skills encompass an astounding range of media including: his iconic paintings, inventive foam prints, T-shirt design, album covers, book layout, toy/figure design, and even neon signs. He’s a master at taking elements from street life and exploring them in his artwork. And while his work is heavily influenced by both hip-hop and graffiti, it refuses to be pigeon-holed by either of those labels. Patrick was kind enough to take the time to share some of his thoughts and his work with me for this interview.

Where are you today? I’m at my studio right outside of downtown Los Angeles in Lincoln Heights.

What are you working on? A couple pieces I’m finishing off. One is a mixed media piece on paper “Fuck a Patrick Martinez,” the other is a painting on acrylic plex laced with neon elements which is titled “fresh produce”. I’m also starting a new 36″ x 36″ painting on panel as well as starting a life size sculpture that I will cast into a finished statue, but that’s down the line.

You’re LA born & raised, right? Have you ever considered leaving? I was born and raised in Pasadena, which is like 10-15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. You know, I have been a few places in the world but never felt like I wanted to trade in L.A. for any one of them, well Montego Bay is really nice…probably a cool place to live but nah, wouldn’t trade it in for L.A., this is my home.

You’re formally trained in illustration. Do you do a lot of illustration these days or does it just inform your fine art overall? I was trained in the field of illustration and I did do some illustration work for magazines when they were around, but the print game is almost dead. I know it sucks to say but it’s true, I love magazines! But the internet has taken over. The game has changed and you have to use your imagination to create work for yourself. I did those magazine illustrations just to keep my skills up as well as my money so I could eat, I knew however I didn’t want to be a “illustrator” I wanted to create art for myself and from the gut. Illustration isn’t something I do anymore but sometimes my work is used in that context. I just use my creative thinking and technical skill to tackle commercial work. I would have to say though, my fine art work does take up most of my time and efforts.

When did you decide to make a career out of your fine art? Good question. I knew art was something I wanted to do at a young age, but the idea of fine art as a career was something I decided on when I was doing graffiti. I was looking at guys like Basquiat and Keith Haring, I was blown away with the success of the greatness they where putting out. Personal expression, wow to make a living off of that…shit that would never get old. That’s what I was thinking at 17. On top of that, what drew me to fine art was the ability to grow with the art. I don’t think you can do that truly when working for a commercial company. I was tempted a few times to join up with big companies and produce work for them 9-5 because I was hurting for money.  The fine art road is a very tough road to take, lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

What themes are you exploring in your art? The day-to-day. Everything from food and diet in the city, to hustling to get by, all the way down to love.

Based on some of the themes you seem to touch upon, it seems like you’re very aware of social issues. Do you have solutions to the problems of the day? I like to observe, so I am aware of things. I don’t think I have all the solutions, but sometimes I like to bring to light issues that trouble me. Right off the top of my head I wouldn’t make graffiti a felony (Free Midzt!). I would send police officers to the local art museums as well as the local concert hall and make them attend community events where they would help out in more ways than just enforcing the law. I think this way they get a better sense of community and are more sensitive to what is going on around them.

Do you enjoy trying out new media and doing going above and beyond fine art? Sure. Some people say its all different. But to me its all creative you know? Its your aesthetic and creative vision that will shine through wether its an ad for a company or t-shirt. I think its all definitely connected. I have art directed: magazines, books, ad campaigns, music packaging, movie posters, 12″ records and on and on…

How much time do you spend on your fine art versus doing other work? I would say more than half of my day is dedicated to my fine art and the rest I can dedicate to other projects. It’s important for me to draw and paint everyday. It’s like visual exercising for me. I gotta do it or I feel guilty!

Why do you say that selling out is the new keeping it real? I think artists in the past would look at artists of today and question them, I could already hear them, “Why are working with Nike on a shoe? That’s selling out, you’re a sell out.” But if you are an artist and you are doing a collaboration project with Nike, that is looked at like a great thing right now. That was the thinking behind the piece. The game has changed, you don’t have to play basketball to have your own shoe design.

Do you bend the florescent lights for your neon signs yourself? No, I have help. My help comes from my great reliable neon bender Anna from Zepeda’s neon in Los Angeles. I design out all the signs and I work hands-on with her to get the piece just right.

How did you come up with the concept of releasing silkscreened foam as signed “prints”? The concept of the Go Getters “Break Yourself” foam hand piece came first.  Knowing that regular kitschy foam hands are mass produced for fans of certain teams I ran with that idea and thought to release the piece as a print so multiple people could get there hands on it. I did 5 colors, 50 each, for variety and to follow the idea of different teams. I think people got the idea, if not oh well?

Which artists have been influential on your career? Basquiat, Keith Haring, Wayne Thiebaud, Jeff Koons, Murakami, Lucian Freud, Espo, Barry Mcgee, Egon Schiele, Robbie Conal, Cartoon and many close artist friends.

Whose work do you enjoy lately? I enjoy checking out photos from my friend Estevan Oriol and his father Eriberto Oriol… they are real assets to Los Angeles Street Culture and art. I just checked out the homie, Retna’s show at New Image art in L.A., which was very cool, I was impressed because he told me he produced all the work at that show in a month. I also enjoy seeing the work of: Grotesk, Kofie, Greg B, Dzine, Rob Abeyta, David Choe and many more.

Do you still pay attention to graffiti and hip-hop? I enjoy listening to hip hop, but not as much as I used too. I do like listening to: J Dilla, Jay Electronica, Jay-Z any rappers name that starts with a “J”  …just kidding. But yes I like the old stuff too: EPMD, Rakim, N.W.A, Ice Cube, Outkast, Public enemy, DJ Quik but I also listen to lots of other music like Arcade Fire, Herb Alpert, Roger and Zapp, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd and the list goes on. In terms of graffiti, I love looking at it when I’m on the streets or driving around. It gets me pumped up. I love seeing Seventh Letter productions, Sh crew productions. Eye one has real clean letters and line work. El Mac and his great portraits around town are always a pleasure to check out also.

Any upcoming shows or projects you want to mention? Lots of stuff in the talks but nothing I can really talk about right now. I do have a group show coming up in August with Norihiko Sakatani, HipHop Chocolate, Jefferson Pinder, Dzine & myself. That show should be a great one, I am excited to be a part of it.

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