Interview with Eddie Martinez

Part I.

The paintings of Eddie Martinez contain a grunting, primal urge for mark making. With a slew of tools and techniques, he piles up canvases with chunky shapes and smears that appear simultaneously accidental and blithely confident. The layers of his work go deep, and a nice, long look at a Martinez image reveals an idiosyncratic history of art: cave paintings, still lifes, animation, art brut, children’s drawings, and graffiti are all stacked and spread into an undeniable slab of satisfaction. A process interview with Martinez appears in our June issue. The below interview was conducted after Martinez’s recent trip to Jamaica. - Ross Simonini 

THE BELIEVER: When you’re drawing on the beach in Jamaica, what do you use? 

EDDIE MARTINEZ: Markers mostly, colored pencils, crayons. 

BLVR: Do you show these drawings much? 

EM: I’m gonna. These ones have been getting kind of destroyed from paint that I’ve been working with. I feel like they’re really showing the direct link between the drawings and the paintings. You can see the physical paint on them, and it’s important to me to show them like that. People might not like it, but that’s not always a problem. 

BLVR: Do you have names for the forms that reappear in your drawings? 

EM: Yeah. 

BLVR: But you don’t want to say what they are? 

EM: Sometimes… [chuckle] I don’t really like to use them. 

BLVR: There are still lifes and then these portraits, and then even the abstraction - they all feel connected to art history.

EM: Oh, yeah. There’s portraiture and landscape and still life. 

BLVR: All the work stems back to these basic forms. 

EM: I think that comes from the way that I have been continually reading and looking, without having any formal art history training. The things that I originally picked up on were all these certain things that made painting painting - still lifes and portraiture and landscape. In a way, I think the abstractions are landscapes too.

BLVR: What are you learning these days? 

EM: I look at everything all the time. I’m constantly looking at art. I went to the de Kooning show the other day. I have this really strong connection and admiration for the Ab Ex painters, the New York school guys, Pollack and Gorky, de Kooning and Guston and all that stuff. That to me is the source, that’s the truth. Just the way that their lifestyles, and the way that they did it. They were all manual labor guys, doing murals and painting houses and stuff like that, that just sort of feels like how my life has been, and I can understand, I just understand those paintings. 

BLVR: You’ve done a lot of house painting?

EM: Yeah, yeah. A lot of house painting, all that kind of stuff.  

BLVR I remember reading about how de Kooning’s understanding of painting came from house painting. 

EM: Yeah, and then also those guys’ monetary restrictions. They were so broke that they would just have to go to the hardware store and buy enamel paint, and house painting brushes, and paint on wood and cardboard, whatever they could find. Growing up working with my dad, I really had no interest in doing the actual work, so I was always like drawing on the wood, doing stuff like that. It just has a real hands-on approach. 

BLVR: And you’ve never been to art school?

EM: No I did, I just dropped out of a couple schools in Boston. 

BLVR: A couple of schools?  

EM: I couldn’t do it. 

BLVR: The discipline? 

EM: Couldn’t do any of it. At all. It was just not for me. And I really wanted it to be at the time because I thought, ‘Oh, okay, I’m going to school, I’m going to art school. I have to do it.’ But I couldn’t. I felt like a real failure. But now I don’t. But at the time it felt like, ‘Okay, if you’re going to try to be an artist, you have to at least go to school.’  And I felt really below everyone. 

BLVR: How long have you been showing art?

EM: Well, I’ve been in group shows and stuff since early 2000s, but not with anything that connects to what I’m making now. I started making good-size paintings and showing them in 2005. 

BLVR: Is that the date that you feel you became the kind of artist you are now? 

EM: Yeah 2005, 2006, I started really developing. 

BLVR: How old were you? 

EM: Twenty-eight, twenty-seven. Started feeling like I was actually able to make some things. 

BLVR: Before that you were making paintings, but you felt they were… 

EM: It was always based in drawing, and it was using paint. I feel like I’m drawing with paint, but then it was really like paint-markers, and not really using a brush.  It also had to do with scale. I was in my bedroom with a big piece of wood. I mean, it would take fifty-thousand paint markers to do this. I didn’t feel like I was making paintings, but now I feel like I’m painting.