Deeply indebted to the histories of painting, yet realised in an immediately contemporary manner, Martinez’s canvases – formed from oil paint, enamel, spray paint, screen printing and studio detritus – are loaded with coloured, quasi-abstract masses in varying densities juxtaposed against shifting lines. The resulting dynamic imagery moves and merges from figuration to abstraction and back again.
Cowboy Town sees Martinez depart from recent bodies of work, as paintings are once again primarily figurative, although not reminiscent of early figurative works, but rather a next step from his more recent abstract canvases. Each painting in this new body of work not only steps back into figuration, but also into an almost subconscious narrative, however this plays out in an open way. Gestures are strong but also impulsive. The paintings are full of energy and movement – images linger just out of reach, eluding fixed identity. One of Martinez’s remarkable traits is his ability to intuit the general mood of the world around him and translate the sentiment very clearly to his painting.
“As the maker I try to keep myself outside the narrative as much as I can or, at the least, I try not to walk people through it.”1
In Cowboy Town the paintings are raw, pared back, exposed. Backgrounds are solid, with imagery almost hovering on top. The paint is thinner, there’s an obvious reduction in ‘stuff’. And while the palette is typical Martinez – strong blues, yellows, reds – the underlying tone is sinister. The paintings are bright but nonetheless dark. For example, in the title painting, Cowboy Town, a face emerges through colour and gesture with a distinct expression of foreboding and dread.
“What I relate to most in my own work and process is the speed and raw unfiltered mark making.”2
The title, Cowboy Town, bears numerous references. As with Island I, his last exhibition here, there’s an association with music, and specifically Rastafari culture. Music is always key to Martinez’s process. Mood and sentiment is processed through music, before entering the canvas. In this case, the Black Uhuru song can be understood as a theme for the entire project.