Straddling Possibilities: Paintings by Richard Martinez
August 24 – December 12, 2015
Roger W. Rogers Gallery
At first glance Richard Martinez’ recent paintings, composed as they often are of a series of joined (and at times sharply contrasting) canvasses, appear to have much in common with a grafted tree that surprises us by bearing several different kinds of fruit at the same time. His recent compositions pair understated minimalist grids with bright and saturated fields of color, and juxtapose hard-edged geometric forms with expressive brushstrokes. He places emphatic, confident and angular forms right next to tentative and gestural brushstrokes, and even carefully-rendered and intricate representational silhouettes.
While Martinez’s paintings call to mind a kind of visual polyglotism, like the cascade of languages overheard at a street market in a particularly cosmopolitan city, they stop short of being a discordant cacophony of conflicting tones. As such his paintings can be read as a metaphor for the diverse and often contested society we live in. The works, with their near-absence of imagery, and titled as they are only with the date of their completion, seem to assiduously avoid explicit and narrative meaning, but they do seem to be a meditation upon the symbolic and historical meaning inherent in the formal and technical decisions made by the artist. With this in mind, it is almost as if Martinez intends to contrast visual influences as varied as the dense richness of the aesthetic of Latin American Catholicism and the sparse, iconoclastic, and reductive aesthetic of Anglo-Protestantism. This comes as no surprise, given his dual cultural background.
In this work Martinez has abandoned the consistently controlled and very intentional elegance of his earlier paintings in favor of a dynamic that privileges process, welcomes the accidental, and creates a visual tower of Babel that embraces and seeks out strange bedfellows and eschews the harmonious, the settled, and the resolved in favor of the improvised, the hybrid and the experimental. One could say that the unifying principle of this work is its refusal to be homogenous and comfortable in its approach. While this makes his work difficult to access at first, and forces us to wrestle with it, his paintings reward the patient and attentive viewer with rich details and unexpected harmonies that remind us that the duality of opposites often means that they have unanticipated commonalities. His choices are daring in that he is willing to take chances and work in an open-ended way that carries a substantial risk of failure.
The way in which Martinez is able to quote the vernacular of artists as diverse as Agnes Martin, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Cy Twombly in the same work tells us that he is a keen student of the history of painting in general, and late modernist painting in particular. He voraciously and omnivorously absorbs influences and inoculates them with one another to produce something that has become a distinct and original idiom rather than simply a compendium of copied strategies and solutions. Martinez has made a virtue of openness to influence.
Richard Martinez is an Associate Professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where he teaches painting. More of his work can be seen at his website: http://www.richardmartinezpaintings.com.
-Andries Fourie (Curator, Roger W. Rogers Gallery)