San Francisco Muralist Jet Martinez Interview Part II

Posted: March 13, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Clarion Alley 13

As I mentioned before in my previous post about Jet Martinez I had a lot to learn about murals. Jet thankfully schooled me about that part of the street art world and shared some of his own personal views as well.

If you thought the first half was good, which it was, just wait. It only gets better from here…

Q: How would you describe your art to someone who may be blind?

A: I would start from big to small. I generally paint nature inspired scenes. They are bright and bold and usually involve some type of pattern for everything from [the] sky to the minutest detail. I use patterns to reference the idea that there is no empty space in our world, everything has texture and everything connects. Then I slowly build down to very small details. Every leaf on a tree. No big green washes that are meant to be grass, every blade must be there. You can see the patience. There are metallic colors in strategic places to give depth and increase the inner light. Some are enormous and some are small, but all of them will allow you to come very close and get very personal. I hate blurry painting; things must be crisp, sharp and in focus. They have a lot of love in them and in the right light, it shows.

Q: How do you feel about the art scene in San Francisco? How does it measure up to that in Mexico?

A: Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question. Mexico, just like the U.S. is quite different from city to city, so I can’t really encapsulate the entire country to compare it to the scene in this one city. I get what you are saying, but I do think that folks in the states tend to have a 2d image of Mexico and see it all as one homogeneous place. But let me speak on the places I know. I grew up in Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City. I also have friends and family in the state of Oaxaca in the south. These regions couldn’t be more different.
One thing that you can generalize between the U.S. and Mexico, as far as art goes, is that there is an incredible amount of folkloric/craft art that is very region specific in Mexico. This folk art can, and often does, define a region very clearly in its motifs and often these symbols and motifs will find their way into the fine arts and even into the street art of the region. So, for example, in Mexico City, there is a lot of Aztec motifs in the graffiti, while in Oaxaca, you’ll find Zapotec and Mixtec motifs in the graffiti. Mexico City tends to be a bit more of a melting pot than other regions, but it definitely has a real edge in its art scene. DF, as it’s known, really dwarfs SF in size, intensity and variety as far as the art scene goes. Probably the most amazing murals you can see are found in DF. It can make SF feel like a cozy little provincial town. It’s dirty, corrupt, scary and oh so beautiful. Oaxaca, on the other hand, is a place that lives and breathes art. [Oaxaca] has always been known in Mexico as one of the cultural treasure troves of Mexico and has done an excellent job of banking on its folkloric and fine art. It lives and breathes art and music and dance. It’s pretty spectacular. In some ways, however, it does tend to get a little protective of its cultural heritage and friends of mine who are artists from there often complain that the art scene can be a little limited.
SF, and Oakland (gotta represent as a new transplant), are also very special places. In a way, I have always looked for ways to recreate that sense of art being an integral and defining part of our society. SF is world renowned for its murals and I am proud to be a part of that community and that tradition. Obviously there’s a whole other world of street art, Upper Playgroundish type of things. Everything gets mass marketed here, and it’s easy to get swept away or depressed by the trendiness of things, but murals persist. They really do have some soul and I think they do speak to something that most people who live here know about SF: that this place is special and we are blessed to live here.

Q: Have you ever had to sacrifice anything for the sake of your art?

A: Definitely. Times are a bit tough right now trying to make this thing work. It has been a bit of a struggle now with two amazing, beautiful, wouldn’t-change-them-for-the-world kids. I know things will even out later, but financially, it has been hard to pull it all together and still continue making work. But there’s a million phrases in the realm of “no pain no gain” that I could apply to remind myself that this is the cause. What I want to imbue onto my kids is the sense that if you have a passion, you must follow it. You must make it work. It needs to be a priority.

Q: What current events have served as inspiration to your public work?

A: Phew! We are living in a time of great changes and social upheavals. I listen to a lot of NPR while I am working, so I am really up-to-date. Egypt was really inspiring in a way I don’t think we can really comprehend in the U.S. Just amazing. In a way, what has been going on in N. Mexico has been an inspiration. It’s strange, but sometimes it’s the bad news that really reinforces and inspires a lot of the reasons why I make my public work. My work is never overtly political, yet it comes from a place of true resistance. It feels like a revolution against the constant reminders of how horrible this world can be and how horrible we can all be to each other. On the surface, I am painting pretty little natural scenes. Underneath all that, I am revolting against all the angst I feel and see my friends and family feeling. I want to be a part of the reasons why it is good to be alive. Creating beauty is a revolutionary act that can defeat all the things that seem to hold us down. So, in the case of Mexico, all we hear here is of these incredibly brutal things that a few assholes are doing to tear the country apart, for the benefit of their corrupted souls. I know that Mexicans are some of the warmest most beautiful people in the world, capable of incredible acts of beauty. That’s why I am currently really inspired to do a series of murals based on Mexican folk arts. Because a war hasn’t seemed to be working, I think maybe beauty might stand a chance. It’s worth a try.

Q: Who has inspired you?

A: My wife, Kelly Ording, is my light. She keeps me together. Not only is she the best friend a guy could have, she is a phenomenal artist. She does things with paint that I can’t understand. There is a simplicity and universality to her work that astounds. My Kids… ‘nuff said. Diego Rivera, John Biggers, Rufino Tamayo, Victor Vasarely, Albert Camus, Chor Boogie, APEX, Manny Pacquiao, Ussain Bolt, Yamazaki, Rigo23, and on and on.

Photo by Flickr user grahamc99

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

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