The title of Eddie Martinez’s exhibition, “Matador,” characterizes his new paintings as the outcome of a brute encounter between man and beast. These brawny canvases—measuring seven by ten feet apiece—burst with hastily applied spray paint, arbitrarily collaged gum wrappers and baby wipes, and viscous oil paint scraped and smudged with a wide palette knife and housepainter’s brush. The artist even defaces his impasto surfaces with an electric disc sander. Also demonstrable are the influences of Picasso and Miró, with whom Martinez shares a love of bold color, painterly gestures, and cartoonish forms, as well as the immediacy of illicit graffiti. What is unusual amid this macho expressiveness is the fact that all five paintings included in the show look more or less alike.
Each work consists of the same four interlocking shapes—small blue rectangle, central orange slab, tall yellow lump, and peculiar black form—on a white background but with variations in style, arrangement, and texture. The freest and messiest is Matador #3 (Street Fruit), 2013, especially compared to the relatively clean and sober Matador #8 (Joint Compound), 2013. The elements of Matador #5 (Prince Rebel 95), 2013, feel the most experimentally diffuse. But because Martinez created the series simultaneously rather than sequentially—numbers for the altogether ten paintings just indicate the order in which he completed them—determining the significance of the differences becomes tricky. Does the artist ever hit his stride or exhaust the motif? Can one painting be stronger than another? If Martinez is genuinely interested in critiquing originality, it’s only to jocularly wave a red cape at anyone foolish enough to come charging.
In street art, an arena from which Martinez draws inspiration, an identifiable tag or style that can be repeated ad infinitum is essential for legibility and notoriety; an alleged contradiction between unique and repetitive expression is beside the point. Similarly, the venerated tradition of bullfighting is as much a scripted (though unrehearsed) event as it is a contentious blood sport, with a bull’s seemingly unpredictable behavior read and exploited by an experienced foe who is less a daredevil than a highly trained showman. Besides, a matador who cannot repeat a successful performance usually meets his untimely demise.
By Christopher Howard