‘I NEEDED TO FIGURE OUT SOMETHING I COULD MAKE MYSELF’: A TALK WITH EDDIE MARTINEZ
Bill Powers: Your drawings were featured in “The Avant Garde Won’t Give Up: Cobra and Its Legacy” at Blum & Poe Los Angeles. How were you first introduced to the movement?
Eddie Martinez: In 2009, I was going to Europe a lot—particularly Denmark—which is where I saw Asger Jorn’s work at the Louisiana Museum. I really fell in love with it.
BP: So he was the gateway for you?
EM: Or it might have been Karel Appel just before that.
BP: What is it that connects your work to their tradition?
EM: The speed and abandon of control. The allowance for spontaneity. Something that interested me off the bat was their obsession with children’s art and how they wanted to create large-scale paintings that looked like children’s doodles.
BP: What is the difference between Cobra and the Abstract Expressionists?
EM: The weird thing is how many Ab Ex guys are considered American. I feel like that was a violent movement. They were living and drinking really hard. Not eating, being cold and pissed off. It felt very extreme to me.
BP: When I interviewed Brian Calvin, he thought maybe the Ab Ex guys were overcompensating with their macho behavior.
EM: I think each movement was romanticized. We imagine the Ab Ex guys being all Stanley Kowalski types and the Cobra artists in their ateliers with bottles of wine and baguettes. Some of the Ab Ex dudes were pretty burly though: Gottleib and David Smith. I think the Cobra guys were reckless, but maybe in a less overt way.
BP: What does speed do to a painting?
EM: It’s action without thought.
BP: Do you think of yourself as an abstract painter or a figurative painter?
EM: I started with portraits and landscapes and still lifes, because I thought that’s what painting was supposed to be. I never really understood the appeal of Pollock’s drip paintings. It’s his earlier work, when he was deep into Picasso— that’s the stuff that moves me. Eventually, I found myself getting more interested in abstraction. After I made this 30-foot painting called The Feast in 2010, I got super burnt out on figures.
BP: A number of your paintings have baby wipes or bits of paper collaged to the face of them. Where did that habit originate?
EM: I was in a state of turmoil and got obsessed with the amount of trash I was producing. And so I just started sticking it onto the canvas.
BP: Did that lead into your found-object sculpture, your beach-combing period?
EM: In retrospect, yes. In 2013, after I finished these Matador paintings, I shut down the studio and went out to Long Island where I was putzing around. I’d wanted to make sculpture for a few years, but didn’t have a concrete idea. There were some failed attempts where pieces were fabricated in wood, based on my drawings, but in the end I hated them. I guess I needed to figure out something I could make myself.
BP: Even though the sculptures came after the paintings, they feel like three-dimensional versions of your two-dimensional language.
EM: Maybe because I didn’t know how to make sculpture, I looked to the paintings for guidance.
BP: Do we see your interests outside of art bleeding in as subject matter? I’m thinking of the netting in some sculptures and I wondered if that’s a nod to your love of tennis?
EM: The thing that looks like a net or a grid to you is actually from a lobster trap so there’s no real narrative there. I did once use a tennis ball in a piece though.
BP: Do you think of yourself as a New York painter or a Connecticut painter?
EM: I was born on a naval base in Connecticut in April and we moved back to Brooklyn in June.
BP: Do you have a relationship with specific colors?
EM: I gravitate a lot toward red. To me, it’s a representation of power and the color red might actually be that in color theory. Also, brown has always been important to me. I know skateboarding really influenced my sense of color overall, the graphics. Mark Gonzales was the most influential skater, his sense of fashion really switched things up, plus he was drawing his own graphics. Matt Hensley was another influence. He would show up to skate on a Vespa in tight mod clothes and do the craziest shit in Doc Martens.
BP: When you were preparing for an exhibition in Berlin a few summers ago, I know you painted outside at a studio on the North Fork. Do you prefer that?
EM: I love all the stuff that gets on the canvas: the dirt, the dust, the insects. If I lived in a warm tropical climate, I would paint outside all the time. I think Julian Schnabel’s outdoor studio in Montauk is a good goal.
BP: Did you ever work for another artist in a way that shaped you moving forward?
EM: I was in Boston in the early 2000s and I heard Barry McGee was doing a show at the museum in Brandeis so I made it my mission to be an art handler there. I was already working as an art handler at the ICA in Boston. The nice thing is that Barry and I still have a dialogue. I just saw him in San Francisco two weeks ago.