Widely recognized for his large-scale, frenetic canvases that burst with color amongst starkly contrasted areas of negative and positive space, Brooklyn-based artist Eddie Martinez (b. 1977) owes his beginnings to street art and the influence of Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism and the wider art historical canon. His highly textured and meticulously reworked surfaces are typically the result of the painstaking act of adding and subtracting various types of paint on canvas, creating friction and immediacy. Obsessed with graffiti from a young age, Martinez has managed to retain the raw, gestural and audacious aesthetic from which he came from in his enigmatic subjects and unconventional creative process. Exemplifying his unique ability to transform small, automatic drawings to mural-sized paintings, Keys to a Defunct Castle (2015) features his talents as both an astute draftsman and a virtuoso painter.
Painted in 2015, Martinez’s Keys to a Defunct Castle is imbued with a sense of anarchy, disorder and plunder associated with its befitting title. Gestural marks of spray paint and bold, brawny swaths of vibrant color that have been violently scraped away and re-applied articulate the visual cacophony and angst of urban life. The artist admits, “I’m one of the most impatient people in the world. Certainly at times I cannot control how the anxiety and impatience and aggressive energy comes out” (E. Martinez, quoted in “New York Close Up,” Art21, 2012). Spanning nearly nine feet across, this immense and energetic canvas is consumed with an eclectic mix of forms and shapes in myriad hues of citrus yellow, sunset orange, olive green and vivacious blue. Built up with dense layers of oil, acrylic, enamel and spray paint, the work staggers between figuration and abstraction.
By delineating the composition with a thin, black rectangular boundary, the artist creates a painting within a painting—a new dimension within the picture plane that spills into the other. Bulging figures in high-keyed color contrasts pepper the mostly abstracted landscape, reminiscent of Willem de Kooning’s expressionistic paintings from the 1950s, creating a composition that is as impulsive and liberated as it is deliberate and industrious. In a cartoon-like style, a loose and urgent sketch recalling a female nude flanks the chaotic explosion of color and form at the forefront of the composition. Other symbols accentuate the expansive canvas, bringing to mind automatism and the animated and whimsical hieroglyphs of Joan Miró. Martinez’s predilection to apply material and then aggressively scrape it away connects him to the important practice of erasure which harkens back to the origins of art and brings to mind Robert Rauschenberg’s ground-breaking Erased de Kooning Drawing from 1953. For Martinez, erasure is not an act of destruction, but rather an act of creation essential to image-making. In a vein akin to early-twentieth century Futurist ideology, the only way to create anew is to destroy.
Keys to a Defunct Castle conjures this fresh, enlivened world through palpitating sweeps of color and boisterous collisions of form. Martinez admits of his paintings in an interview with fellow artist, Barry McGee, “I’m kind of dancing around this thing, doing it as quick as possible, and just letting the marks fall where they fall” (E. Martinez, quoted in conversation with B. McGee, Interview Magazine, September 2014). The painting’s ambitious scale and the abundant reach of Martinez’s gestures on the canvas render this work a compelling expression of the artist’s perception of the modern world in America.
Thus, the present lot stands out as a superb example of Martinez’s work from the past decade. 2015 marked a pivotal time for the artist: his burgeoning talent secured him representation by Mitchell-Innes & Nash, and several international solo museum exhibitions followed, including shows at The Bronx Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit and the Yuz Museum in Shanghai. Always instilling his work with a stylized brand of personal iconography, Martinez leverages his striking visual vocabulary to produce a captivating and inimitable landscape in Keys to a Defunct Castle.