The work of visual artist Patrick Martinez is a manifestation of his immediate contact with the city streets of Los Angeles. Martinez operates on an intuitive level, balancing the familiar nuances of the city with his own novel ideas of expression. So whether communicating through painting, sculpture or signage, Martinez’s artwork is not a hackneyed representation of LA, nor any crime-riddled, gang-infested inner city of America for that matter. Rather his depiction is a refraction of what he encounters visually in LA. The urban struggles of Los Angeles have been well documented, at times ridiculed and other times even glorified (insert hood movie here), but Martinez sees his hometown through a different prism. One that is informed by the phenomenology within his urban settings. Patrick seems to have the keen ability to transform the quaint subtleties of the people, places and objects that he faces on a daily basis into pieces of art that are as equally recognizable to the average viewer as they are captivating. Parodical in a sense, but not in the overly nonsensical way that a Shawn/Marlon Wayans flick might play out (see Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood). There is a certain intellectual finesse acquired when you are able to insert a message that is equal parts political, sardonic and comedic in a single painting. Traditional techniques in new, progressive forms. New mixed mediums with a detectable kind of slang, or visual vernacular.
This preliminary explanation of the artist leads us to one hot, sunny day in California. A day we were granted access to view and visit the man at work in his 1,700 square foot studio on the outskirts of Downtown. His space was adorned with many of the notable pieces that you have likely come across along your journeys through internet webpages or the many photographic moodboards of online creatives. We were lucky to interrupt Martinez mid-painting to discuss some of his notorious artwork, his acquired ethics in graffiti and some of the old and current methods that he is re-mixing, tinkering & experimenting with today.
Let’s start with the formalities – can you state your name and what you do?
My name is Patrick Martinez and I am a visual artist from Los Angeles, California.
All your work is so immersed in street signs and street culture. So much so, that an average onlooker may not even blink an eye to it. Describe your emotional and creative connection to the city.
The connection between the art and the inspiration from Los Angeles is more direct. I take inspiration from objects in the city, driving, walking through LA or different parts of it. I take objects that are oftentimes overlooked and really analyze them for what they’re worth. Attitudes and language even – I take those things and use them as ammo. Taking these visuals and then flipping or remixing them as something familiar while making it new again.
When was that first moment that you decided to use that ammo that you’ve accumulated and execute it into a piece?
The first time I knew that I wanted to take on this Los Angeles visual language was pretty early on when I was in art school. I always wanted to take something that wasn’t farfetched or out of reach. It was something close at hand, something that I grew up with or was familiar to me, and tried to create something new. I think the first thing that kind of happened where people read it and understood it was the “Westcoast Palm Readers” piece in 2008 and also “Selling Out Is The New Keeping It Real”. Before then I was just doing paintings and showing in galleries since 2003 when I was still in school. That’s ten years ago, but the natural progression was always about seeing the city in different lights and painting the people within the city. All the while taking objects and different cues, remixing them and putting them back out there. This (points to current piece in progress on his work desk) is just the natural evolution of it; this is where I am now.
What was the first type of artistic medium you were playing with in your formative years? Is it safe to assume that it came from graffiti? What was your tag?
I started in graffiti when I was 12 years old. I was a toy or whatever, I was never really too good at it. I mean, I was good at it enough so that people respected me in the city I grew up in but some of the guys now are just destroying it. Nevertheless, that start in graffiti taught me a lot of discipline. To be able to assemble your art supplies, steal some of them and go out and do graffiti. Not so much bombing but just going to the yard with your friends, assembling them and painting for hours and hours. That’s a lot of discipline. You have your reasons that you do it, but for me mostly it was more creative.
My tag was Pats, but my name before that was Pattern. That was too long to write so it became Pats. I stopped in 2000 because I was more painting on canvases. Graffiti taught me how to do large productions and not to think small. It also taught me how to look at the city because when you’re doing graffiti you are looking at different parts of architecture. You’re dealing with people too that you don’t necessarily see on the daily – going through dark tunnels and meeting homeless people who aren’t out in the light. It gives you another perspective of the city and it really opens your eyes to everything.
You recently did a few pieces with Playboy – how did that come about and play out?
I did a magazine spread with Black Rainbow in Paris. The photographer Jared Ryder saw that spread, liked the look and the concept so they wanted to do four set-ups. A series of four pieces and then a playmate would be immersed within the different elements of the piece. Paint, lighting, objects, the set. I came up with the concepts and influence. It lived online mostly because that’s what they were trying to achieve.
Explain how you take an idea for a piece from your head to actually producing and ultimately manufacturing something.
For example, this one on my table currently is still in the works. It starts off usually as a loose sketch on a scrap piece of paper. For me, I get a flash of something. Either the idea comes up more intellectual where I can type it out on my iPhone or it’s more visual where I’ll get a flash while I’m driving. Then I take markers real quick when I get to the studio, 10 minutes worth of drawing and you get kind of the idea of what you want. So then you don’t forget it.
Is that undertone of street culture in your pieces a conscious decision for you to always tie into your work?
Yea I think so. I guess my interest came from that at an early age. You know, it’s not so much dramatic, like Boyz ‘N Tha Hood or Menace 2 Society. It’s not like that for me; it’s more the subtleties and everybody in the city. Objects, people, places, things like that. Those are immediate for me – my surroundings. I can only express or give you my experience. If I grew up countryside then I would reflect that, I think. That’s just my personality. I can get deep with it but I want to communicate with people in a certain language.
I find that there is also a sarcastic tone in your work as well – is that intentional or just what comes with the subject matter?
Where I grew up, my brother was in and out of prison. You’ve got these archetypes in LA – baldheaded guys in tanktops, gangsters dealing drugs, etc. That stuff is part of the city but it’s not the only part of it, right? There’s movies based on them but it’s not the only thing, so I try to humanize that aspect of the archetype. Not making fun of it but saying, “Hey, these dudes are human. They eat ice cream or they need hugs just like all of us”. It’s not so photojournalist gritty, it’s more in the sensitive light that I see it in. I’m not trying to be redundant and say what everyone else is saying about certain Los Angeles neighbourhoods being rough and whatnot. We all know that, but there are also people in the streets trying to get out of a gang, trying to do good, trying to evolve rather than being stagnant.
It’s so easy to put focus on – not even the negative – but the drama. But what happens when these guys just go to the mall or hang with their families, you know what I mean?
How has the response been from the people of LA or California for that matter?
I think that it’s been positive. I get emails from teachers thanking me for the things that I’m doing. They ask me to come speak to their art class. They’ll tell me about a piece in detail that they’ve looked at. It’s cool. It’s cool to touch those teachers, kids and people my age and have that response. That’s what art is I guess, you put something out there and someone has a reaction to it. It’s not all about having to buy a piece because anyone can go to a museum and experience art. Someone like Van Gogh or Picasso, you can still go visit them in they way they want you to see them. It’s cool that people can look at my stuff and experience something or feel something.
Did you grow up visiting museums and looking at things like Van Goghs?
Yes, I was lucky enough to see that. At an early age our teachers would try to get us out of the school and bus us to this museum in our city. I didn’t know that I wanted to do art. I was drawing at 5 or 6 years old, but to look at that stuff at an early age helped me out a lot. It was like a silent sense of content. I remember being young and knowing that these guys are good. Not knowing how good they were in a technical sense, but just thinking “wow”, they really made their mark. That was always my attraction to art, being able to express ideas but also being able to live when you’re already gone.
I’ll go ahead and state the obvious. Your work has a lot of references to music. Rap music is inherent in it.
Yea, I mean those things pop up because they are in my toolbox. Rap was the soundtrack to when I was doing graffiti, driving around with my brother in the city or walking home from school, wherever. I listen to a lot of other stuff now but it’s still there. I listen to rap a lot, I’ve done some CD covers and things. That stuff is in my toolbox, so I use it. To get the point across in a familiar way, I’ll use that language.
Are you currently work with any new mediums?
It’s about the concept for me so it could be anything. You can come here in two weeks and it’ll be something totally different that I’m working on. It’s about the concept first and execution second. I’ve done statues made out of bronze or even melted guns. I do plastic toys, neon, painting, drawings on paper. It’s all open.
What does it mean to you to have a voice that people from around the world are listening to – from getting nods in national and international magazine publications to having your billboards overlooking LA.
If you go to my place I don’t have any of my artwork hung up. I don’t get caught up with those types of things. I know it sounds cliché but that’s not going to fuel me to create. I’ve been creating since long before I got any mention and that’s not going to necessarily fuel the next 10 years. I’m going to continue to do what I do, but I know that people are listening now so that’s really great. That makes me happy.
The billboard stuff too – you’ll get photos or tagged on Instagram or people you know text you about it. That’s great too because again, now people see it and people are listening. It’s great to have that opportunity to actually do stuff like that.
To end us off, one question we like to finish our interviews with – do you have any mottos, philosophies or words that you are currently living by right now?
“It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.” – Helen Keller
photographs by Mario Soriano