Artist Spotlight on Jet Martinez, Bay Area based Artist/Muralist
Published Feb 2015
Oakland-based artist Jet Martinez sees art a means to connect with different communities. Working on both canvas and large walls, Martinez creates pieces with stunning visual patterns and hidden, personal messages. His work graces many walls in San Francisco and through travel he’s also has the opportunity to meet new groups of people. As a former director for the Clarion Alley Mural Project, he served as a liaison between property owners and artists. Now, he reflects on his changing ideas of community and the relationship between art and giving back. FULL ARTICLE: On any given day, the monumental Diego Rivera mural “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City” will attract dozens of awe-struck visitors, ready with their cameras. The mural towers over the Diego Rivera Gallery, a space housed on the campus of the San Francisco Art Institute. It crystallizes a moment in history that allows visitors to picture the famous artist at work. Some years ago, one of these admiring visitors was a young Jet Martinez, who had recently dropped out of his Spanish Literature program. This change in career paths led him to focus on art, and the Rivera mural—one of three murals by the artist in San Francisco—immediately struck him, reminding him of the Rivera murals he saw while growing up in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Soon after the visit to San Francisco, Martinez left his hometown of Colorado and enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute. After graduating with a BFA in painting, he went on to forge his artistic career through gallery work and, more importantly, public murals. In some ways, his connection to the Rivera mural came full circle: now a prolific artist settled in Oakland with his wife and two kids, Martinez has decorated the walls of San Francisco in his instantly recognizable way. Many of his murals feature clusters of flowers that come together through layers of bright color, like patches on an intricate quilt. Though he often pulls from many sources, Martinez has noted Mexican embroidery and pottery as past inspirations. His work in the recent show City of Eternal Springtime at White Walls Gallery clearly paid an homage to Mexican textiles through the delicate rendering of fine lines on flowers with curving leaves and petals. Not all of Martinez’s work feature flowers, but it collectively looks cohesive because of the artist’s adept color combinations, attention to patterns, and careful linework. Martinez boasts major commissions from names like Facebook and Red Bull, and has exhibited his work everywhere from Japan to Zurich. He has transformed walls in places like Oaxaca and Switzerland. During his time in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, Martinez created local murals and also worked as the art director for the Clarion Alley Mural Project. He served in this role for a decade, communicating with property owners and artists to create new works of public art. As the years passed, Martinez grew weary with the process; starting a family also changed his priorities. Though he travels less now because of family responsibilities—he jokingly admits that he measures time as “pre or post kids”—his past trips have definitely served as unique ways to engage with communities outside of San Francisco. After all, painting a huge wall requires artists to stay in one place for more than just a couple of days; for Martinez, traveling offers not just opportunities for sightseeing but for creative expression. Getting to know a new community only makes the process more enjoyable for Martinez. “It’s the best way to really visit people and let them know something about you, maybe the best part about you,” said Martinez. “They don’t need to know, like, whatever the dark sides of my personality are. They don’t need to know that. All they get to see is the positive. I get to put out the positive aspect and I get to represent the Bay Area. I get to say ‘I’m from California, this is what we do out there, I’m happy to be here.’ It’s the most pure, perfect exchange.” In fact, Martinez feels the most free when he creates public pieces. Even though his works will come under the scrutiny of many eyes—and many passersby—he often forgets about anyone watching. Instead, he explores what aesthetic possibilities might unfold. Unrestricted by subject matter or style, he can explore where his art might take him next. But providing for a family makes creating public art—a process that often operates on a small budget and offers no payment to the artist—much more difficult. “Most of my work right now is paid work and most of it is offices and private commissions,” said Martinez. “I don’t think that’s community work and that’s the work that interests me. It’s not like I’m interested in free work but my interest is the work that happens to be free.” Now, Martinez has two solo shows planned to take place in Denver and New York. However, he wants to shift his focus from purely making art for monetary reasons. Lately, children’s organizations have reached out with proposals for public work, and Martinez hopes to be a part of more community-oriented projects. “This year, the focus is definitely to do a lot more street work—a lot more important work,” said Martinez. “Work that helps people.” Visit Jetromartinez.com for more information on the artist.