A dynamic effusion of colour, form and movement almost three metres across, Men’s Health (2015) is a virtuoso example of Eddie Martinez’s energetic abstract painting. A quivering scape of biomorphic form is scrawled, sprayed, and dripped in vivid gusts of red, lilac, brown, coral, cyan, khaki and yellow pigment. Shape and colour convulse and burst across the canvas, spooned by loops and dives of strident black line. Martinez animates the surface with de Kooning-esque vigour; his abstraction’s humanoid edge bears equal traces of Arshile Gorky and Philip Guston, and recalls Jean-Michel Basquiat in its graphic complexity. Thick streaks of chewing gum introduce a streetwise tactility, as if the artist has graffitied his own finished work. This wryly self-referential touch is characteristic of Martinez’s paintings, whose seemingly effortless gestural energy belies a complex process of draughtsmanship. The artist begins with Sharpie marker-pen drawings on a small notepad, which are then blown up and silkscreened onto the canvas to provide a structural scaffold for the pyrotechnics of oil, enamel, spray paint and collage that follow. Martinez’s giddy command of line and colour electrifies the painting, forging a work that is at once improvised and deliberate, immediate and rich with thought.
While Martinez has cited the Abstract Expressionists as a major influence, he also draws inspiration from the vital brushwork of CoBrA artists such as Asger Jorn, and the Surrealists’ hallucinatory approach to form. Based in Brooklyn, he is equally attentive to what he calls ‘the colours of the street’ – not just graffiti, a medium he worked in himself after briefly attending art school in Boston, but also the street signs and detritus that reveal the pulsing life of a city. The chewing gum in Men’s Health speaks this language of urban surface; other works have incorporated found objects such as wrappers, tennis balls, thumb tacks and rubber hosing. ‘I like depressed cities because their signs still exist, all that original shit like Seven-Up signs from the 70s,’ Martinez has said. ‘I love all that, I love Chicago, New York and want to visit Detroit. New York, it’s still there but you can’t see it. It’s covered up. Tags, I love to see tags, I don’t really care for stencils and that sort of stuff. I like all the shit on the street like how trash can look at a distance, like a sculpture’ (E. Martinez, quoted in P. C. Robinson, ‘Eddie Martinez Speaks To Artlyst About His Latest London Exhibition’, Artlyst, 30 March 2017).
This resourceful, transformative approach to reality is richly evident in works like Men’s Health, whose title was likely suggested by a billboard or magazine advert. The painting is busy with remembered imagery, and frenetic with the organising force of the artist’s mind. Martinez merges echoes of art history and the street with a bold, intuitive compositional velocity entirely his own: the result is a white-knuckle ride through the process of seeing and creating.