Jet Martinez On His New Screen Print Editions, Coral Bleaching & The Unfun Side of Artistry

Oakland-based artist Jet Martinez is known for creating vibrant works of art that put a contemporary spin on folk art motifs. Originally from the small beach town of Tuxpan, Veracruz, Mexico, Martinez takes inspiration from his native culture’s rich traditions of pottery, weaving and embroidery. In his latest screen print editions for 1xRUN, his first in more than three years, Martinez displays his unique and simplistic approach to painting, and gives way for his screen printers to lend themselves to the creative process (see: variant and printer’s selects editions). Read below for our exclusive interview with the artist, who offered insight into his inspiration for the artwork, deep concern for the future of the world’s oceans, and plans for the future.

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1xRUN: Tell us a little bit about thispiece, anything immediate you would like us to highlight about these images?
Jet Martinez: This piece is one of the most intuitive pieces painted for my latest show “Des Colores”.  Rather than drawing out the piece to begin with, I worked very loosely, inventing on the canvas.  I used a style I have been developing which is based on a technique used on lacquerware from the state of Michoacan in Mexico.  This is my favorite, and easiest piece from that show.

1x: This piece was part of your recent exhibition, “Des Colores”, how did it fit into that show? 
Jet Martinez:  My recent show, “Des- Colores” dealt with the concept of creating art in these times of great global upheavals and climate change.  The concept for this show was sparked by an intellectual dissonance I had been feeling – creating decorative work meant for commercial consumption while being fully aware of massive changes happening in our environment.  I have always aimed to make work which lifts people’s spirits. But in these very serious times of great political upheavals and damage to our planet, it’s felt more like I was closing my eyes to serious truths that shouldn’t be ignored. I have been struggling to find a way to use my own visual language to address some of these very real concerns.

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On a project earlier this year, I had a chance to work with a group that worked on coral reef system preservation. Around the world, our oceans are experiencing an unprecedented level of destruction which often manifests as “coral bleaching”. Essentially, the coral forms lose their polyps and the structures die, leaving whitened ghost forms of what used to be living organisms.

For this show, I used that metaphor of bleaching.  I think I am mostly known for my color filled work. I decided to use the fact of coral bleaching as a reference point by recreating some of my own favorite previous works, and removing all the color from them.  In a sense, the work is not lost and still has a certain beautiful aesthetic quality, but it is certainly not what it used to be.

Just like this piece, “No Birds, No Bees” , all the works in the show had titles that didn’t seem to fit the works, and instead pointed to real problems in the real world.  The idea was to recreate that intellectual dissonance I’ve been feeling by presenting something visually beautiful, but pairing it with a thought of something really quite sad and dangerous. In this case, “No Birds, No Bees” presents a simple beautiful pattern of poppies. The title however, points to the real fact that the planet is experiencing an alarming loss of pollinator bees, as well as a dramatic and documented loss of half of all bird species in North America.

With this work, I was trying to hold space to keep both opposing thoughts (beauty and loss) in my mind, much the way I do when I work in my studio.

1x: What materials were used to create this original piece, and when was it drawn and created?
Jet Martinez: The original piece was painted in September of 2019. I used acrylic and ink on wood panel, and it measures 36 x 48.

1x: Tell us how the idea and execution came about for this image?
Jet Martinez: Technically, this piece was created using a technique I’ve been developing based on traditional lacquer ware from central Mexico.  The technique involves using two colors on one brush to create readymade blends which are shaped into petals/ flowers.

Although my initial inspiration was these folk arts from Mexico, this technique of painting is not unique to Mexican culture. It is sometimes referred to as “one stroke” painting.  There are examples of this type of painting all over the world.

I’ve been adapting this technique to use much larger rollers and brushes to create abstracted forms which  hen finesse into recognizable shapes… generally flowers.

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1x: How long did this image take to create from start to finish?
Jet Martinez: One of the reasons why I really love this piece, is because it was made while I was in a great artistic flow. It was done in 3 days from beginning to end… which is really really fast for me.

1x: What is unique about this piece compared with your other work?
Jet Martinez: The speed was one factor that made this piece unique. Also the fact that I didn’t do a pre-drawing on the panel made this piece unique.  I literally stepped up to this one and started creating abstract shapes and the piece revealed itself to me.  Once the main loose part of the piece was done, I came back through and tightened up the visuals with a gold line.

What I particularly enjoy about this piece is the looseness of it.  There are a lot of unresolved blends and brushstrokes that I would normally fix, but in this case I worked against my tendencies and really enjoyed the outcome.

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1x: Why should people buy this one of these prints?
Jet Martinez: First of all, I think it’s a really beautiful image.  One that I would want to live with. Secondly, I really don’t do a lot of prints, so when they come around, they are pretty rare.  I also think the “printer’s selects” variant will be really unique takes on the original image.

1x: Describe this image in one gut reaction word.
Jet Martinez: Meditative.

1x: It’s been a bit since our last release and you have been staying busy, bring us up to speed on what you’ve been up to in 2019 so far.
Jet Martinez: Oh man…. it’s been a pretty interesting year.  While last year was a year of lots of travel and smaller projects, this year has really been a grind of large, involved mural projects.  It’s been a very productive year in terms of developing my portfolio and working with larger clients.

I also worked a good portion of the year in studio on pieces for my last exhibition in October at 1AM gallery in SF.

To be honest, however, though this year has been a good year for work and larger projects and keeping super busy,  I haven’t had very much time to experiment and work on the newness. Or even to just sit and think…

1x: What are some of the ways you’ve been trying to push yourself as of late?
Jet Martinez: I have been pushing on much more involved and large scale mural projects in pretty incredible locations. To some degree, I’ve been pushing on being more professional as an artist. That means investing in building out my studio, investing in lawyers to develop contracts and all that other unfun shit that professionals need to sew up at some point. I know this isn’t exactly what you were asking, but for me, this has been a massive push and investment in my art making practice. My hope is that 2020 will bear the fruit of these investments. Now I will have a nicer studio to work in and I’m carving out entire months from this year’s calendar to just mess around.

I am also planning on finding projects that actually have meaning… be it community work or work that addresses real problems in the world. At this point, I am kind of over the commercial aspects of art making, and need work that feeds my soul and regenerates magic in this world.


1x: Talking recently you’ve mentioned how you’ve been fascinated recently with digital paintings, what are some of the ways it’s been helping you with more traditional painting and vice versa, what are some of the aspects of traditional painting that can’t be replicated with digital work?
Jet Martinez: I’ve never been much of a digital artist… but like many friends of mine, I’ve been using the iPad as a way to sketch out ideas and work out mural proposals. While I originally was using the iPad in a more utilitarian way (specifically for proposals), I eventually got more comfortable with the medium and realized that the iPad and digital drawing is very much it’s own medium. I love the quickness of being able to change background colors, and insert and remove objects. I think I still prefer to draw on paper, but the iPad is definitely a time saver and an idea generator for me.

I also started messing around with beat making apps as a hobby, and quickly realized that I could make small short films of my drawing process with beats that I made. I had honestly been looking for a hobby, since all my time is spent in studio doing what I think others do for a hobby. These little films really get me out of my head, and I really enjoy them as a separate form of art making.


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1x: Do you want to talk about some of the repeating themes in your work of flora, fauna and these sort of pulsing/hypnotic patterns? Why do you think you find yourself returning to some of these.
Jet Martinez: I think I work in large repeating circles, where I advance into uncharted (for me) visual territory, then circle back to what I know, then bring that into the new work, and repeat.

I think that the child in me still thinks that the role of the artist is not necessarily to be famous, but rather to interpret the world around us.  A lot of times, I paint vibrant and pulsating natural themes, because I feel disconnected from the magic that nature offers. Painting can be a form of prayer or meditation.  It can help me get back to the deeper truths that our connection to nature offers. I think this is and has been the roll of artists as far back as we can trace civilization.

I am also painting a lot about Folk arts, and specifically folk arts from Mexico. I get sick of people discussing Mexico in a boxed in way where all there is to talk about is immigration, drug wars, violence, poverty and perpetual strife. I want to show that Mexico is fucking magic, and we Mexicans through our art and our culture seek to live in a world that sees and respects nature as well as our ancestral origins. Our culture is one of the most original and beautiful cultures in the world and I want to sing its praises in the face of many who would hate Mexicans for racist reasons.

One of the reasons I’ve been focusing on folk arts (from Mexico and beyond), is that I find it deeply inspiring that entire towns can dedicate themselves to making folk art objects in a multi generational familial setting.  Art making, in many towns, is the primary economic generator for these communities. As an art maker, I find this deeply inspiring.

 1x: Any big shows or events coming up that you’d like to share?
Jet Martinez: Next year, I’m doing some nice projects for San Francisco State University, a couple projects in New York and possibly some large sculptural pieces.  I’m also planning on working on as many small walls as I can here in the Bay Area as well as beyond. Big walls are all good, but I love the attention and detail I can put into small walls, so I’ll be looking for as many opportunities as possible.

Studio wise… I’m feeling a bit deflated from the commercial gallery model, so I’m going to spend as much time as possible working on the newness without the pressure of a show.  I want to spend time inventing and creating new ways of thinking and working so that I can reconnect with the reasons I make art.

I’m planning on getting out of the country with the family for a good part of the Summer, to create some creative breathing space.


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1x: Any thing that we didn’t touch on that you want to include?
Jet Martinez: I  just want to express my gratitude to those find value in my work and support my efforts. It really means everything to me that people work with me and buy my work and support not only me, but my family too. Thank you!

1xRUN: Where else can people find you? – Website & Social Media Links
Jet Martinez:  Instagram @jetmar1 –  Website

-1xRUN