‘Look What You Created': Artist Patrick Martinez Examines Systems of Power in Stirring New Exhibition
Undoubtedly, 2020 was marked by a series of life-altering events for the U.S. The nation contended with the onslaught of COVID-19, a presidential election, and systemic injustices faced by people of color, which exposed a highly divided country. Subsequently, artists across America collectively responded with a reflective message through various mediums, calling for accountability and equity. This wave of urgency deeply impacted Los Angeles-based artist Patrick Martinez and led to the launch of Look What You Created.
The exhibition, which is currently on display at the Tucson Museum of Art (TMA) through April 24, 2022, showcases Martinez’s art, including mixed-media painting, neon signs, and cake paintings. Through this installation, Martinez examines personal, civic, and cultural loss in communities of color, discrimination, displacement while urging accountability and transparency. Furthermore, Look What You Created highlights Martinez’s ability to encourage conversations about equity, empathy, humanity, and connection.
Reflecting on the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed conjured a parallel memory to Martinez’s childhood with the brutal beating of Rodney King televised in 1991. “The footage was on TV more than anything I can remember. The uprising came in ‘92 when I was 12 years old. I was doing graffiti in the city, and that was happening,” Martinez recalls. “So, I was thinking about that uprising and the 2020 uprising with the protests and people being fed up and connecting those two times with Kirk McKoy’s photo.” For context, the former Los Angeles Times senior staff photographer and photo editor, Kirk D. McKoy, published a photograph from the 1992 LA riots that featured the expression “Look what you created.” So, Martinez’s work reveals the astounding similarities between such imagery and events and recent nationwide protests and demonstrations.
Ultimately, Look What You Created takes the past into the present with works that Martinez hopes viewers will acknowledge that “we’ve been resilient, we've gotten through a lot, but how else can we move forward?” Get a glimpse of the exhibition and read on as Martinez shares the inspiration behind some of his thought-provoking artwork below.
No Justice, No Love
“That’s a bell hooks quote. With the neons, for me, the reference point is storefronts in Los Angeles, and that’s how I was introduced to the rectangle format with the text; driving down different parts of the city, you would see pawn shops, checks cash signs. I wanted to repurpose those neons to present them to people driving by, speaking to them. That’s the idea. So, it’s the language that I think needs to be seen and heard during these times, like quotes that align themselves with compassion and love for the time that we're living in.
Also, with this piece, I am informed by my surroundings, specifically the landscape. During 2020, when I made this piece, businesses were boarding up their doors and windows with this compressed wood. I wanted to use it in this painting to reflect that specific time. I also imagined the neon being smashed in the storefront but still working illuminating words by bell hooks ‘There can be no love without justice.’ A direct response to the question posed by the media and city officials: Why are young people stealing, looting, and breaking property?
Then, that relates to Martin Luther King's; ‘a riot is the language of the unheard.’ So, I felt like that needed to exist as a neon to answer the question: Why is this happening?”
Feliz Cumpleaños Nipsey
“The context of a birthday cake is celebrating someone's life. I was painting portraits of people that have been discounted in history or just kind of not celebrated as much as America should celebrate these people. Also, I was thinking about how I could apply paint differently. So, I'm literally taking frosting tools and cake-making tools and creating textures. I paint the portrait traditionally, and then I paint the rest of it with cake frosting tools with paint.
Then, the gold frame it sits on like a plate is like a gold frame of a portrait that you might see in the National Portrait Gallery. Typically, it's this old white man, black background, gold frame, and dramatic lighting. For me, I'm trying to find new ways on how to communicate a portrait.”
All American Class of 2016
“When I was very young, I remember policemen would be in our schools. I never understood that. So, growing up, my brother and I would always be kind of discounted by police, or they would always mess with us. They would just be around more than they should be.
Moving forward, that was the ‘90s, and I'm a 41-year-old man, and it kind of makes all the sense now. You see where things are now, and you understand the precursors. So, I had this body of work that I started in 2005 that dealt with youth and authority. It was through the Pee-Chee folder. So, we would draw on those things when we were in high school and middle school. So, in the old Pee-Chee folder, there are kids, very American, playing baseball, basketball, and everyone's happy. So, I wanted to create a new version of it. So, kids are running track, but they're being chased by a police officer, kids playing football, but they're being harassed by a police officer. For all those situations, I made a painting of that, and then I put it on a varsity jacket. There are only two of them. It was inspired by an exhibition I did at a high school in Los Angeles. So, I was imagining these kids wearing it instead of just looking at it.”