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Patrick Martínez: American Memorial

By Suzanne Cohen

“Patrick Martínez: American Memorial” opens at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on May 25. Born in 1980, Martínez lives and works in Los Angeles. In his work, memorials take myriad forms, as the act of mourning offers an opportunity to express pain and demonstrate respect. In public, mourning can function as a political protest, a defiant act and, ultimately, an expression of love. Ultimately, memorials exist as material manifestations of grief, and for Martínez, they can be found throughout daily life. He renders his observance of them in paint, neon and repurposed school folders.

Artist Patrick Martinez. Courtesy of Cornell Fine Arts Museum.

Hip-hop culture and graffiti served as early influences for the artist, and he continues to stay in tune with popular culture and be deeply concerned about current events. In his neons, the artist reimagines texts that reflect hard realities and truths and embody struggle and fear. As a result, these words become amplified and reverberate in our collective consciousness. For example, in free 99 (hold ya head), Martínez uses the lyrics of the deceased rapper Tupac Shakur, “Currency means nothin’ if you still ain’t free.” The artist often employs deceptively playful materials like neon and draws from popular sources like rap music to produce deeply poignant and timely work.

Patrick Martinez (b. 1980), Po-lice Misconduct Misprint – Lost Colors Series (mint), 2016, pigment print on paper-double-side, 12” x 9”. Anonymous donation. Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery.

In other recent works, Martínez, inspired by Pee Chee school folders and rendered in both paint and print, creates sensitive portrayals of people who too often are depicted without respect and dignity. More specifically, the artist presents people of color who are victims of police brutality. His early success as an illustrator and designer for record labels has enabled his multilayered subversion of the Pee Chee series.

Patrick Martinez (b. 1980), free 99 (hold ya head), 2016, neon, 30” x 36.” Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery.

A number of paintings in the show pay tribute to floral memorials. The ubiquitous use of flowers to commemorate loss or, in some cases, the intervention of flowers in daily life that inspire a meditation on the meaning of beauty emanate from these works. With a colorful palette, the artist leverages certain aesthetics that reflect both individual and communal pain. His neon Then They Came For Me is a haunting reminder of the fragility of personal safety and of a just society. While the phrase is steeped in history, it still resonates today. “Patrick Martínez’s art is both timely and consequential,” says Cornell Fine Arts Museum director Ena Heller, Ph.D. “His works offer a nuanced yet forceful commentary on contemporary society. As the dialogue they spark is particularly welcome on a campus, we are delighted to organize this exhibition, his first solo show in a museum.”

Patrick Martinez (b. 1980), american memorial, 2016, ceramic, acrylic, and stucco on panel, 60” x 60.” Private collection Dr. David Rosenberg and Dr. Jessica Lattman. Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery.

Martínez’s work was recently featured in the Los Angeles Times and has been exhibited in group exhibitions at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Cal., and the Vincent Price Art Museum in Monterey Park, Cal.

Patrick Martinez (b. 1980), All American Class of 2016, 2016, acrylic on panel, 60” x 95.” Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery.

“Patrick Martínez: American Memorial” is on view from May 25 through September 10 at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the Rollins College campus. 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park, Fla. 32789 | www.rollins.edu.