A frenetic explosion of colour, texture and line, Cannibal Eyes captures the high-octane painterly drama that defines Eddie Martinez’s practice. Raw swathes of red, orange, yellow, green and blue collide with muted tones of grey and white, splashed, dripped and smeared across the picture plane. Thinned passages of colour intermingle with rich strands of impasto, creating a complex illusion of depth. Rough black lines loop and swirl across the canvas in calligraphic ecstasy, articulating a series of indistinguishable forms that seem to peer through the furor like the titular ‘eyes’. Collaging oil and spray paint with found materials including wrappers and packets, Martinez combines the urban language of graffiti with influences drawn from Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism and CoBrA. Coming to prominence in the mid-2000s, he has received critical acclaim for his ability to merge art-historical allusion with impulsive painterly intuition, creating bold abstract topographies that feel almost alive. ‘It’s sort of like a boxing ring’, he says of his approach; ‘… it’s a very physical process’ (E. Martinez, quoted at Artnet News, 27 December 2018). Executed in 2014, the present work alludes to this sense of internal combat: the artist destroys and creates in equal measure, creating a surface that appears to ‘cannibalise’ its own making. Widely celebrated over the last decade, Martinez was recently the subject of a major exhibition at the Yuz Museum, Shanghai – his first solo show in mainland China – until January 2020.
Born in Connecticut in 1977, and now based in Brooklyn, Martinez credits history as his mentor. Abstract Expressionism was a primary influence: ‘not just the men, but the women too’, he explains (E. Martinez, quoted in K. Tiernan, ‘Eddie Martinez: “I just want people to interpret the work how they want”’, Studio International, 20 April 2014). Asger Jorn became an important source of inspiration after the artist encountered his work in Denmark’s Louisiana Museum, where he instantly fell in love with the vitality of his brushwork. Popular and street culture, too, offered wellsprings of visual stimulation: ‘I learned a massive amount from graffiti that I’ve taken into the studio’, he explains, ‘in terms of scale and how to make large marks and how to take a small drawing and make it large’ (E. Martinez, quoted at Artnet News, ibid.). Indeed, Martinez is celebrated as a draughtsman as much as a painter, and the two media merge organically in his work. His interests in sculpture, meanwhile, are evident in his three-dimensional approach to the picture plane, which quivers with layers of found ephemera: elsewhere, he has used thumb tacks, baby wipes and rubber hoses. The restless dynamism with which Martinez navigates, mutilates and amputates his resources – both material and historical – is written into the very fabric of the canvas. In Cannible Eyes, the result is both virtuosic and visceral, bristling with raw, primal energy.