Luis Martin, The Art Engineer
Stepping into Greatness!
Luis Martin was told he was an artist before he knew what an artist was. Luis grew up in a surreal and turbulent environment with family melodramas and external disaster beyond anyone’s control. It was reinforced in him that he was an artist in part because the adults around him saw that 'art' could be his raft in a sinking ship. They were right. Luis spent his childhood bouncing around between mother, father, grandmother and aunt. Each space was a different world with its own rules of gravity. Luis felt most safe and free with his grandmother and aunt. Luis grandmother used to bring him stacks of fashion magazines from her work as a maintenance person at a posh convalescent home. This would have a long lasting effect on his work. Luis became obsessed with the periodicals and resolved to create collages when he did not see images that reflected his personal reality on the pages.
Luis was born and raised in Los Angles California. Early on art became his loudest voice and his strongest muscle. While in Junior High Luis won an art contest which took him to NYC and got he on the Today Show. Landing at JFK at fifteen years old, Luis knew that the crisp winter air gave him more life than he could ever inhale in LA. While in middle school and high school Luis worked at several museums and participated in after school programs which offered unparalleled experience and access to people he would have never cross paths as a kid. Luis had internships at the Los Angels County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art. These experiences along with his participation in other art programs became Luis way into the art world and his way out of LA. Luis had direct access to interact with curators, artists and renowned works of art- that kind of accessibility to history and beauty as an insider ingrained in me a belief in the power of art. While still in high school Luis also had the privilege to be part of a brief studio internship with a Chicano Artist, Gronk. His studio was in down town LA less than a mile away from my house yet worlds apart. It showed me a palpable template of what was possible. Art was never not an option for him.
While in high school Luis participated in a brief studio apprenticeship with a well-known Chicano artist. His studio was in down town LA less than a mile away from my house yet worlds apart. Luis would arrive hours before the other students to have long conversations with the artist in thick clouds of cigarette smoke and the smell of dark thick coffee. His loft was filled with his art and the work of others. Luis absorbed the experience as a certain and palpable template. The other students in the apprenticeship were just as interesting as the artists. One student in particular Luis had seen numerous times at his school but never have the nerve to speak to. She was this amazing talented young artist that glowed with a resemblance to Frida Kahlo and Jimmy Hendrix, only beautiful. On the last day of the program she sat next to him and painted. Luis mustered up the courage to speak to her. Luis stated “She was lovely, we pained together as she shared that she was going to Paris the next day, I had always wanted to go to Paris. I had gotten paint in hair, she said it would never come off and that was ok. The next day I turned on the TV and saw that the TWA flight she was on had crashed in NY. It winded me. Her death showed me the seemingly irrational logic of life while her life, until this day inspires me to do everything with intention. There is an urgency to live in me that is informed by this experience and has propelled me to be the artist I am today.
While in high school Luis left to New York a week after graduating high school and got a job at El Museo del Barrio. Luis started by answering phones, and a few weeks later he was giving tours and teach classes. Luis spent his first year in New York observing everything he could. Luis had gotten accepted into a great school in Brooklyn which he started in September of 2001. A few weeks later after September 11, Luis reevaluated the system of financial burden and his personal values and descried to leave that school. After teaching at the museum for a pair of years Luis felt the need to go to school again. Luis was accepted at the Fashion Institute of Technology where he studied Fine Art, tuition free with scholarships and financial aid.
In college Luis realized a career as an artists was like being Tarzan, jumping from one lifeline to the next to get ahead, he willfully accepted the challenge.
After graduating art school, with the help of his husband, Luis got his first art studio and began his art practice. While not entirely sure what the next step should be, Luis involved himself with his art practice as a way to connect to the things that interest him in the world. This has allowed Luis to create genuine work around what is important to him. Luis is interested fortifying the framework of how he, and artist in general can operate and flourish within our communities and society as a whole. When Luis got his studio he stated to read business books and self-help books. This practice illuminated a bridge between where he was and where he wanted to be. In the process Luis found his mission to lead by example and achieve great feats in his artistic career to then help others do the same. Luis has learned to build community by collaborating with like-minded people with different strengths and talents. Most of all his art practice has given him a sense of true north and an unshakable faith in the future.
In college, Luis created the term "Art Engineer". He felt his ideas were limited by the notion of being a “studio artist” which is what he went to school for. This new monocle gave him a farther reach to approach art from a holistic point of departure. It allowed Luis to seamlessly implement his past museum experience and various interests into his studio practice. Operating as an Art Engineer Luis has been able to nurture his art practice while engaging in curating programs and developing community.
In the studio, Luis creates work he develops from his collage which he calls and uses as sketches. These sketches become nonlinear narrative paintings. The narratives tend to reveal awfully personal idiosyncrasies from a subconscious point of view. In the past Luis has been told they look surreal or neo-realist, he does not mind either description. Luis is most interested in making them.
Luis feels a certain kinship to all artists. Spending so much time in museums during his youth, Luis learned to dissect the chemistry and magic in every work he encountered, even if he is not personally attracted to it. The artists that Luis admires and contribute to his practice are not always the artists whose work he would want to look at ever day or hang in his house. They have an intrinsic quality that informs him reasons for being an artist and help him navigate his path.
Parenthesis Exhibition in Bishwick
Three of the artists he admires are Henna Hoch, Gabriel Orozco and Kerry James Marshal. Luis shares “Henna Hoch work was my first introduction to collage. It was raw and powerful with a certain grace that hinted at a subversive rage. She was a Dadaist, which meant she created from a point of view that was deliberately free of academic baggage. Gabriel Orozco is a contemporary artist from Mexico, who makes conceptual work which lives in a state of poetry and inquisitive quandary. He creates work in a multitude of mediums, this flux of material that yields to the ideas of the concept gives his work an air of freshness and his concepts feel genuine. Then, Kerry James Marshal also a contemporary artist. I am drawn to his work in every way. His paintings are large scale and engage with the present and history while celebrating the black experience in vivid color. He approaches the painted figure in very exciting ways that make me want to pick up my brush.”
Luis explains “This short list of artists is a group who, were and are engaged with their roles as thinkers. In many ways I see their practices as a form of protest and affirmations of identities and power lead my thought.”
Luis wants to confuse his audience a little, sometimes even scare them. Luis work has a lot of idiosyncratic nuances that only make senses after the viewers spend sometime with the work and give in. Luis paintings are non-linear narratives, meaning they allude to story but not in a straight-forward kind of way. Luis paintings have juxtaposing colors and images that ask the viewer to draw their own conclusion about what they are looking at and are meant to second guess themselves and logic altogether.
Luis is always working. He is consistently sourcing images, writing, reading and researching- it’s the only way he knows to breath. More formally Luis collage every few days. His studio at home is full of pillars and stacks of magazines. Once he creates a collage that he wants to engage with through paint, he paints it. Luis loves translating the collage into the medium of paint. He gets to spend more time with the composition and the imagery. It is within this intimate context in which he finds its meaning.
How did you develop your curatorial skills?
Luis shares “I approach curating from an artist's point of view. While I appreciate and respect historical contexts I do not let it hinder my curatorial process. My goal as an artist curator is to share the work of working artists. I am interested in engaging with contemporary artist's praxis and connecting audiences to art that explores material and presents exciting ideas. I am fascinated by artists and believe in our role in our culture.’
Share with us why you decided to create Parenthesis Art Space
Luis explains “Parenthesis came about from great opportunity to pour all of my art experiences into a tangible space. At the time I had a studio at an art studio complex. I saw the potential for a great community to be formed within the studio complex. The owner of the space was very much interested in growing his business and granted me a subsided space. The space was essentially a large hallway which I activated with programing and collaborations. It was amazing to transform that humble space into something special where I curated bi-monthly exhibitions and community programing while curating artists from the community in pop-up shows around New York City. It was a team effort that included my husband, the owners of the studio, artists, and sponsors. Most rewarding for me was being able to take artists to show during Art Basel/ Miami Art Week and create Parallel Lives. Both programs were ways to extend artist's reach and amplify their networks. Creating Parenthesis has been an exercise in vision, perseverance, and team work.”
“Looking back there are three lessons that I learned early on: 1. You can't do it alone, artists are often conditioned to believe that they are so special and "unique" that we are afraid to join a community or take on a unfounded fear or mistrust of non-art folk. We have to work together! 2. You do not have to re-invent the wheel. So this is a big one, everything under the sun has already been done- so contribute to it, don't kill yourself trying to be original. 3. And most important to me, “trust your gut”- above all you need to develop scenes self-guidance and intuition. When you learn to trust yourself and your intuition there is no need for anxiety or fear because you know you are behind the wheel. This gut instinct has led me to make moves that are not always clear on the outside but make perfect sense in the bigger picture. “
Luis shares “I am very excited to expand Parenthesis from a small space in Bushwick into a far-reaching "floating space". As floating space, I can expand my reach to create programing that is not bound to a physical space. I am collaborating and creating programing with various organizations and business that brings their own community and network to collaborate with mine. Not having a brick and mortar space or a studio feels like the world has opened up. Parenthesis mission is still to develop programming and exhibitions to create opportunities for Artist and businesses to successfully collaborate and extent the Artist’s reach.”
“Being Founder and Director of Parenthesis has allowed me to formalize the work I have done most of life. It has allowed me to create a platform to develop opportunities for artists that I would want to see for myself as an artists. Having curated several shows in multiple cities and having worked with a great group of artists has allowed me to be an active participant in creating culture. Parenthesis allows me to create projects that reflect the varied perspectives of my community and the professionalism only ambition can foster.”
Tell us your long-term goals.
Luis states passionately “I would very much like to see my work in the same museums where I grew up and the ones I pilgrimage to when I travel. I also want to see my work at Target store, no joke! Accessibility is very important to me. I want my work to be seen by people. If my work is only at one gallery or in one museum it is retired from the public dialog. My target in particular is a symbolic place for me. I went there often as a kid with my family and today I go there every weekend with my husband after brunch on Saturdays, it’s our happy place. At the end of the day, I want my work to have a place in the world.
The article Stepping into Greatness with Luis Martin gracing the 1st Anniversary Issue of ACS Magazine September/October 2016 at http://www.acs-mag.com.