November 1, 2009 – February 3, 2010
Roger W. Rogers Gallery
At first glance the latest series of drawings by Richard Martinez reads like a tempestuous and fatalistic version of the Lloyd’s shipping register, but the works gradually and subtly reveal themselves to be nuanced meditations on the nature of history and identity.
The mixed-media wet and dry drawings fix dramatic nautical scenes on a frosted but translucent surface as small, austere and minimalist silhouettes. The restrained palette and minimal treatment seem to deny the inherent romanticism and drama of shipwrecks, voyages of discovery and an elemental struggle against the violence of storms. It’s as if these seascapes are rendered in a way that embodies the clash between J.M.W. Turner’s paintings of ships outlined against golden, turbulent skies, and the ascetic minimalism of a work by Donald Judd. The tension between heroic, dramatic subject matter, and cool, formalist execution seem to argue that history is more complicated than any one perspective or depiction might suggest.
The decision to paint on Duralar, a translucent and to some degree transparent medium, is no accident. Transparency evokes impermanence and fragility and calls to mind the mechanisms of memory and history, which allow us to view the present through the filter of the past. Formally, the frosted medium creates a lucid membrane on which forms are silhouetted crisply while they seem to be suspended in space in the same way that specific events and memories float in the ether of time. Duralar is also the material that blueprints are printed on. This is fine example of meaningful materiality, since our view of history provides a blueprint for our understanding of the present.
Martinez also addresses the complicated dynamics of identity in these works. He seems to suggest that to be Hispanic in America often means to be aware of the two great cultural influences that shape your identity: the richness of indigenous American culture rooted in the soil which you came from, and the genetic and cultural influence of the Europeans who came to the new world in their sailing ships (the age’s equivalent of weapons of mass destruction and the vehicle of globalization’s early manifestation). The conquest of the continent, brutal and catastrophic though it was for the indigenous peoples, left its cultural and genetic traces in their descendents to such an extent that to separate the indigenous from the introduced would mean the loss of half of one’s identity.
Given this context, Martinez’s treatment of the nautical images is intentionally and understandably ambiguous. The silhouetted ships become ciphers on which the viewer can project his or her own view of the events and ideas presented. Although the works are undeniably beautiful and elegant, there is also something ominous about the darkly silhouetted ships. Martinez seems to delight in the hybridity that comes from creating a work of art that is the product of examining an idea from a multiplicity of aesthetic, historical and cultural perspectives.
Richard Martinez teaches painting at The University of Texas at San Antonio. He received his BA from Southern Oregon University and his MFA from The University of California, Davis. His work has been exhibited in Texas, Oregon, Florida and California
- Andries Fourie