Much of Martinez’s other works harken back to his childhood and paint a complicated picture about race and class. For example, in his first solo exhibition in New York, “That Which We Do Not See” at Fort Gansevoort in 2019, he presented a series of colorful portraits of freedom fighters that sit atop sculptures of sheet cakes. The faux confections nod to the birthday parties in his community growing up. The faces of prominent activists and intellectuals such as James Baldwin, Angela Davis, and Malcolm X appear on the cakes, against vivid backdrops. By rendering their portraits on these familiar, celebratory surfaces, he honors these activists in his own way.
In another series made up of neons, Martinez reimagined the familiar signs from mom-and-pop shops to comment on racial inequality and class, illuminating messages like “Black owned,” “Fight the power,” and “No struggle no progress.” One piece, titled Equality
(2016), shows the phrase “All men are created equal,” with the word “equal” distinguished. More recently, he’s been making large mixed-media paintings, several of which appeared at The Armory Show in March with Charlie James Gallery
. The pieces combine a variety of media—such as neon, ceramic tile, and spray paint—blending aspects of “high art” with common objects.
“I do feel like I’m all over the place in terms of lighting and executions, but I feel like they are intersecting in a way,” Martinez said. “A lot of people say, ‘You have a lot of different types of work,’ but for me, in the back of my mind, it’s all interwoven.”
With the “Pee Chee” works, Martinez noted that he’s often using simple pens, like the ones that any high schooler might use in class. “I want to get people into galleries and museums; I want to speak to the youth,” Martinez said. “Speaking to and painting to these people.…I try to make things accessible to them.”