The artist says this was the climax when his mother told the story. She would scrunch up her face, bare her teeth and claw with her hands. The children would scream and laugh. Martinez explains the moral of these stories: "The devil's out there somewhere. You never know where he's going to pop up, so stay in line."
Martinez's work is part of Chicano Experience in the west gallery of the Mattie Rhodes Art Center. The show comprises the work of Hispanic men from the Midwest and highlights their cultural and political experiences. The show, though disjointed at points, takes us beyond folk art and offers diverse ideas expressed through a variety of media.
Martinez, the featured artist, uses at least three different styles and a varied assortment of materials. His abilities are impressive; his subjects are political, humorous and rife with cultural references. Every one of his pieces is intriguing in its own way, but the most alluring are "Leyende #1" and "Leyende #2." The pieces take place at night, with silhouettes of his characters and their scenery made from black foam core and highlighted with white paint. The effect is eerie and engaging.
In "Leyende #2," his grandfather is a policeman fascinated by a mysterious female figure who wanders the streets of Mexico City at night. He follows her, mesmerized, believing that she is beautiful. When he finally reaches her and she turns, her face is that of a horse.
In sharp contrast to these pieces, Martinez has chosen to show a couple of what he calls his "sofa paintings." "El Soltero Tu" is a painting of a sofa; within the painting, above the sofa, is a painting of 1960s revolutionary Che Guevara. The face of Guevara. The face of Guevera, according to the artist, is actually his own. The upholstery of the sofa is bright-red and has Aztec dogs printed on the fabric and a small pillow with the Kansas City Chiefs logo subtly placed on the cushions. Martinez began painting sofas three decades ago in reaction to a commercial for sofasized art-work sold at "drastically reduced prices." He's been painting them off and on since.
In yet another style, Martinez continues to show his range with the Mexican craft of papel picado, Spanish for perforated paper. Papel picado is traditionally used for decoration in Mexican celebrations. About 50 pieces of tissue paper are stacked with a pattern placed on top; the paper is perforated using small chisels. Martinez's experiments with the medium are stunning. Particularly strong is his portrait of Emiliano Zapata, the famous Mexican revolutionary of the early 1900s. On it is written "WWZD," a humorous acronym for the question "What Would Zapata Do?"
The nine other artists in this show with Martinez are as engaging as he is. But the collection lacks cohesion, with the various works spread through the gallery, lacking apparent connection to one another. Joey Rocha is particularly gifted, creating beautiful paintings that seem to be inspired by his past as a migrant farmworker. "Season's End" shows a man, harvesting corn, flanked by two purple-robed angels under a tricolored sky. The expanse is a rural setting, a lovely imaginary place.