Known for evocative portraits of agricultural workers rendered on the unique surfaces of used and discarded produce boxes, Narsiso Martinez combines lived experience, research, and art history, using the functional specificity of his found materials to augment and contextualize both his narratives and his imagery. In painting and drawing, as well as collage, sculpture and installation, sophisticated portraiture combines with the elevation of common materials to push back against the underserved invisibility of these laborers whose roles are central to a functioning economy. Through Martinez’ work, raw materials are transformed into testaments to the individual humanity of laborers, in an empathetic alchemy that is also a testament to the power of the artist.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
NARSISO MARTINEZ: I remember drawing since I was a kid, but unlike many, I never stopped. I realized/decided I could do a career out of making drawings when I took my first art history class and got inspired by the masters I learned about after high school.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work is about farm workers, highlighting their presence and contributions to the country.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I went to art school to improve my drawing skills and learn how to paint. I continued art school to learn how to do research-based art.
When was your first show?
If I remember correctly, my first group show was at the art center Collective Arts Incubator in 2016 in Highland Park. My first solo show after art school was in 2018 at the Long Beach Museum of Art in Long Beach, and my first solo show at a contemporary art gallery was Superfresh in March 2020 at Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
I am a part of a few online art exhibitions, Sources of Solace (through April 30) at Euphrat Museum of Art, and Just Food (through May 21) at Fullerton College Art Gallery.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
I’d like to show alongside Charles White, Kerry James Marshall, or Käthe Kollwitz.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
I am down to listen to music from any genre, from punk in Spanish or English to corridos, salsa, cumbia, pop, rap, or jazz, many times depending on the mood and or the subject matter I’m painting about. Last time in the studio, I was listening to rapper Pablo Hasel. I learned about him through the newscast and decided to learn more about his music.
Website and social media handles, please!
I don’t have a website at the moment, but here is my IG: @narsisomartinez.