San Francisco Muralist Jet Martinez Interview Part I

Posted: March 7, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Mural: U‘WA

It’s easy to get swept up by the more traditional forms of graffiti that you see driving along the freeway or sitting in a BART train going from Daly City to Fremont. If you get hungry, like I probably would, crave an amazing quesadilla suiza from El Farolito and decide to take a little detour in the Mission… you will be bombarded by a different form of street art.

Murals are brightly handcrafted masterpieces that can be found throughout the Mission on the sides of buildings new and old. People often don’t associate murals with street art because they tend to see it less as vandalism and more as welcomed pieces of work. In the Mission, however, it’s neither. Instead, it’s part of the districts rich history that goes as far back as the 1970’s.

I must admit that I never really considered muralists when working on this blog either. Then I looked up at the wall in my room and noticed that a lot of the photos I’ve taken in the city were of random buildings in the Mission with murals on them. That’s when I decided to do some research and found out about a San Francisco muralist by the name of Jet Martinez. I read his bio and instantly fell in love with his work. The guy uses colors that we take for granted every single day and creates the most amazing form of eye candy! I was enamored by Jet’s story and then saw that pesky little link that said contact me. I thought… oh why the hell not! So I proceeded to email him hoping to hear back and before you know it I did.

Even though he is a busy man, Jet took the time out to answer some of my questions. The interview is quite long, so I split it up into two as equally amazing parts. Please enjoy.

Q: How did you get involved in the art world? How long have you been doing this?

A: I have been painting or drawing since I can remember. I’ve always had the ability for drawing and color but only got serious about it three years into a Spanish literature degree at the University of Colorado. I came out to SF to go to [San Francisco Art Institute] in 97, and have been pretty serious about gallery and street work since.

Q: Do you feel that your educational background at the Art Institute was beneficial to forming the artist that you are today?

A: In a round about way, I do feel like SFAI was instrumental to the artist I am today. I think the “tute” is a different place then than it is now. For one, at 24 years old, I was one of the youngest people there. There was only a small handful of kids right out of high school, so most of my peers were already along in their artistic careers. I’m not completely sure about this, but it does seem like there are lots of younger folks there these days. The professors I had were all showing artists and really gave invaluable lessons about life as an artist. SFAI was not the place you went to if you wanted to learn technique. It was the place you went to if you wanted to delve deeply into what you were already doing and surround yourself with other people who were quite serious about their art as well. The things I learned at SFAI were the intangibles: how to organize a studio, how to translate thought into image, how to feel and most importantly, dedication to your craft. Sadly, what I didn’t get too much of at the “tute” was a strong art business education, marketing, etc. That would certainly have been helpful considering the tremendous loans I had to take on to go there. But, I love the “tute,” and will always cherish my time there.

Q: How long does it take you to develop an idea for a mural/painting?

A: That’s kind of a tough one and it really comes down to the fact that I have a family now and need to make a living. On the one hand I have all these ideas that I would love to do, and will do when I can fund them. I have been lucky in that I am mostly commissioned to do the things that I already do. Back in the day, when I got an idea, it was just a matter of finding the wall and I would make it happen. Now, I’ve gotta make those hours count towards a mortgage and all that good stuff, so I try to work through grants and city funds. About half of my work now comes from private and public commissions. Often these types of projects involve translating the client’s desires into imagery. I really have to tread the line carefully because on the one hand it is absolutely important to me to retain my artistic integrity and be able to own up to everything that I do (For example, I don’t want to find myself painting scenes of Tuscany or other typical cheesy murals). On the other hand, sometimes you’re dealing with potentially large budgets and do need to take the client’s desires into consideration. Sometimes, in the design process it’s hard to find the balance where you know that you’ve been hired because the client likes your work, but they also want you to do something different than your usual work. In this kind of case, coming up with a design can take a while. The last couple of years has really been a struggle with exactly this topic. I have famously taken incredibly long on not necessarily the biggest walls and frankly, it’s not good for business. When I start busting out the one hair brushes on a wall in an alley where I’m almost not getting paid I know I’m in trouble. This has made me change it up a bit and some enormous commissions I’ve had in the last couple years were really quite simple designs. It’s good to do different things, but I do fear that my work can suffer a bit when I have to consider my budgetary limitations. I never want to let money hinder my vision, but for the time being, these little babies at home are the biggest project going.

Q: Can you describe your most memorable experience?

A: Recently, while painting in the Tenderloin, a group of winos who always hung out and watched me paint whilst getting completely obliterated…They would get wasted then start yelling, then fighting with each other, then telling each other how much they loved one another, then start jonesing crack or whatever… in short, they became a daily bummer to paint around. One morning, I came to the wall around 8 a.m., and there were about 15 of them camped out in front of my wall. Long story short, the entire alley got blasted by taggers the night before, but they said they would stay out there the whole night and make sure no one tagged my wall. To this day, the wall is squeaky clean. When it comes to painting, I probably have hundreds of stories about how people really become affected by seeing someone paint something in public. I really feel like it can change people’s day, if not their lives to see someone create art in a public space. That’s why I love painting on the streets. That’s why I am true to it like I am to my girl.

Q: What do you think is the biggest difference, if any, between graffiti artists and muralists?

A: Graffiti artist are animals! Just kidding. I love ‘em. The first real graffiti artist I became friends with was Saber, a really intense cat from the MSK crew. He and Revok used to own this town for a while and they were some very serious dudes: serious about art and serious about territory and respect. I wont generalize because I don’t think that I am like most muralists, so I definitely give the benefit of the doubt, but there is definitely a strong code with graffiti artists and that code can get you mad respect or in serious beef. I think there is also a third tier to this conversation and this is self styled “aerosol artists.” Folks who use cans to create ridiculous work that can no longer fully be described as graffiti. A good friend of mine called Chor Boogie is doing some pretty amazing things and I think he is trying to break out of the politics of graffiti and just identify himself as an artist. There’s a few others, and they all bring that amazing energy of the speed of the can but are creating amazing new forms. Frankly, I’m a bit jealous of graffiti artists, and really, the crux of that jealousy is the speed with which they can get things done. There’s also an unspoken way in which collaborations are easier and that comes from the letter forms. I definitely could have, and still could, pick up a can but the look I am trying to get needs brushes. Muralists are a bit different. To tell the truth, I do relate a bit more to the energy of graffiti artists. I want to feel like I own the city one wall at a time. I want to push visuals to a new realm. I want to create a new original aesthetic.

A lot of my favorite muralists are graffiti artists. In some ways, muralists, and again there’s all kinds, but muralists can be a bit more precious. In the public realm, graffiti artists expect that their work may be tagged and they are ready to reclaim their space. When muralists get tagged, they have a community event to declaim the problems with society and raise funds to repaint the mural. I’m exaggerating, but I do sometimes feel that we muralists can be a bit too precious and this probably has something to do with the fact that it does take a lot longer to do something. In that sense, a public muralist really does get more of a chance to get to know the community they are working in. I’ll put it this way, the best thing about graffiti art is that it is pure passion and raw talent exploding on a wall reminding us of the potential for spontaneous creativity. The best thing about public murals is that it is also pure passion and raw talent, but slowly growing on a wall, creating community, reminding us not only of the importance of art in our communities, but also of artists, living out their passion in the day-to-day.

Photo by Flickr user Franco Folini

  1. […] Francisco Muralist Jet Martinez Interview Part I and Interview Part II, “On the surface, I am painting pretty little natural scenes. Underneath […]

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