Emilio Martinez, Of monsters and men
Opening event on September 23, 6 – 8 pm
David Castillo presents Emilio Martinez: Of Monsters and Men, a solo exhibition of the artist’s paintings in the gallery’s DC Triangle space.
Macabre fantasies of fanged beasts and lurid characters unfold across the charged surfaces of Martinez’s paintings, depicted in a visual language of bold brushwork inflected by the influence of 20th-century Figurative Expressionism. Bearing the same humanist verve as this stylistic predecessor, these works convey a weighty emotionality reflective of the uncomfortable and at times violent conditions of their time. In light of this, there is an allegorical quality to these pieces whereby their nightmarish imageries belie whimsy evocative of cautionary stories and fairy tales. And in much the same way that Lennie, the physically imposing character in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, innocently commits a terrible act; or how in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the monster proves to have more humanity than those who mistreat him; Martinez’s works urge their viewer to heed the old adage that appearances are often misleading.
Of Monsters and Men considers the ambiguous moralities endemic to humanity and how things are seldom as they seem; how a beautiful scene might camouflage horrors; while ugliness might keep us from seeing the virtue, charm, and merit concealed just beneath the surface. In his painting practice, Martinez freely navigates these areas of nuance and unknowability, creating in his pieces frameworks for introspection about the motivations and intentions—whether good or bad or somewhere in between—of the figures he depicts; and, by extension, leads his audience to weigh the same questions well beyond the boundaries of these works.
Martinez similarly treats the history of art as yet another morally nebulous character to be questioned, prodded, and rethought. He positions himself within its narratives, tearing pages out from art historical books—about the Western canon, Old Masters, Modernism—and affixing them to his canvases, painting over texts and images, often revising and reinterpreting well-known works through his visual lexicon. In the piece BOOGIE DOWN, monstrous figures of varying sizes inhabit the canvas, one of them taking a shower—in a visual punchline—over an essay discussing Edgar Degas’s painting After the Bath; while a text about artistic life in turn-of-the-century Vienna literally occupies the mind of another such creature in-frame. In the work Under the spell of Van Gogh, Martinez depicts a family portrait of sorts, an arrangement of monsters with wide eyes and snaking limbs lined up at the front of the picture plane; they stand in a landscape detailed in swirling brushstrokes, a direct reference to Van Gogh and his signature manner of applying paint to canvas. Across his body of work, Martinez nods to Frances Bacon, Francisco Goya, and other notable figures, flattening the hierarchies of this history, claiming space within it, and drawing out comparisons between his paintings and the ways in which the abject, the obscure, and the uncertain have been represented pictorially along the visual lineages of art.
Of Monsters and Men reflects age-old and far-reaching questions about the nature of good, evil, and the liminal spaces between, and Martinez personifies these concepts in the seemingly fiendish characters that populate his works. Behind their gnarled expressions and pointed claws, these haunting figures are comprised of contradictions, they contain within them unbridled ambiguity, and they—the monsters—are ultimately a mirror, a reflection of what it means to be human.
Emilio Martinez (b. 1981, Tegucigalpa, Honduras) immigrated in 1994 to Miami, where he continues to live and work. His artworks have been exhibited at the University of Syracuse and the Instituto Cultural de México, Miami, among others. Martinez’s work was included in the exhibition Visionary Aponte: Art & Black Freedom, first presented at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, Miami, in 2017; it traveled to the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, New York University, New York (2018); Power Plant Gallery, Duke University, Durham (2018); Centro de Desarollo de las Artes Visuales, Havana, Cuba (2019); Galeria Oriente, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba (2019); and Fine Arts Gallery, Vanderbilt University, Nashville (2020). His work is represented in private & institutional collections in the United States such as the Art Museum Fort Lauderdale and internationally.