‘It’s Sort of Like a Boxing Ring in Here’: Watch Artist Eddie Martinez Wrestle His Way to a New Painting

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Eddie Martinez Whistles While He Works." © Art21, Inc. 2012.

Eddie Martinez makes being an artist look exhausting. He paces around his Brooklyn studio, then slowly approaches the canvas with an aerosol can. He makes a few marks, then steps back. He scrapes the paint before it has time to dry. Then he sits in an office chair, rolling himself closer and further away from the canvas. He looks a bit pained as he tries to figure out his next move.

I might be one of the most impatient people in the world,” the New York-based artist says in a 2012 interview for Art21’s “New York Close Up” digital series. “Certainly, at times I can’t control how the anxiety and impatience and aggressive energy comes out.”

For more than a decade, Martinez has created lively paintings that are influenced as much by street art as they are by Abstract Expressionism and the canonical history of painting. “I learned a massive amount from graffiti that I’ve taken into the studio, in terms of scale and how to make large marks and how to take a small drawing and make it large,” he tells Art21.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film, “Eddie Martinez Whistles While He Works.” © Art21, Inc. 2012.

The artist is best known for his large-scale paintings that combine spray paint and silkscreens of blown-up drawings. But in his current exhibition at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (on view through February 17), Martinez is presenting a new body of work that marks a shift in direction: He has begun to white out large portions of his compositions, making the negative space as prominent as the positive space.

If Art21’s footage of him beginning a massive new painting is any indication, this innovation was hard-won. “It’s sort of like a boxing ring in here—it’s a very physical process,” Martinez says as he sizes up the initial black outlines he has made on a seven-by-ten foot canvas. “Maybe I’m a little addicted to that. It’s a real way for me to work things out, outside of just the actual painting.”

Over the course of the day, Martinez steps up to and back from the canvas like a boxer diving in and out of confrontation. (He also gets a welcome break by walking his French bulldog, Franny, through the graffiti-clad streets outside his studio.)

By the afternoon, he seems satisfied with his progress. “I think that’s it,” Martinez says. “I think if I start painting I’m going to start making mistakes…. But the composition is working. That’s pretty rare—a first take composition that I want to go with.” 

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared on Art21’s “New York Close Up” digital series, below. “Eddie Martinez: White Outs” is on view at the Bronx Museum of the Arts through February 17, 2019. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.


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