To Be An Artist Is To Pay Attention – In Conversation With Patrick MARTINEZ

Stucco paint, bougainvillea flowers and an abundance of neon - these are the tapestries of Los Angeles brought to life in the artworks of Patrick MARTINEZ.

artist patrick martinez in his studio featuring skateboard art collection from the skateroom

As local neighborhoods are rapidly changing, wrought by gentrification, modernization and increasing costs of living, the LA-native cements their landscapes and communities in a powerful visual investigation.

MARTINEZ’s art is a cultural archive, as well as a call to action. He creates space for conversations to unfold both on and off canvas, shining light on social issues and inviting self-reflection. This chosen practice is as personal as it is public, speaking directly to the people and mirroring our current times.

We connected with the artist in his studio to discuss art-as-activism, the aesthetic of disappearing and serendipitous encounters with the city. Those themes, and more, are at play in his new collection with THE SKATEROOM – available now.

Was there a specific moment when you realized that you’re an artist?

When I was very young, I was always drawing and scribbling. It always consumed me. I knew I wanted to become some kind of artist, but I wasn’t too caught up with what that meant or what I was trying to say with the medium. All it was, during my early years, was investigation. In terms of content but also materials.

Did your upbringing influence this investigation at all?

In the United States, people want to commodify things. I would hear from different people around me: “How are you going to make money from art?” But actually, my dad really understood it. His brothers and father all drew and painted, he himself was doing photography and jewelry. Early on, he saw that I was interested and it was probably familiar to him.

Serpents (Welcome To The Jungle) skateboard art by artist Patrick MARTINEZ

So you subconsciously followed in the same footsteps.

Yes. I didn’t know that my dad’s side did all that. It wasn’t apparent to me until I was older, when we’d visit my grandfather’s home and he’d have paintings up. He’d also show us carvings and sculptures that he’d make from wood. The more we went to visit, the more I smelled the paint. Maybe subconsciously it affected me, but I was also already on my own path.

I will turn forty-four in August and I think about the past a lot. I’m trying to hold on to why I even started making art in the first place. The art world can be consuming, so you want to hold close to that initial spark.

Is this process of reconnecting with your past self reflected in your new art? Are there any early themes which you are exploring again?

They’ve always been there. Not that I’m locked in to that childlike person from before – I’m very much living in the real world, but I also flash back to occupy the spaces of now and then. It helps me to engage with that innocence and remind myself that art is a real calling and a privilege.

I don’t make art because I have a show, but because it’s something I want to do. I think about these things a lot and I try to keep that little child close. Some of that early content comes back, like the spray paint, drawings, the walls which form the surfaces of my pieces….


patrick martinez studio featuring skateboard art collection from the skateroom

One of your earliest practices was graffiti.

When I was a teenager, I started doing graffiti because the characters I was drawing were also painted by some graffiti artists I knew. I also recognized its social aspect. Graffiti is social. You put it on walls because you want to show it to other people.


That’s an interesting point. It’s hardly an intimate art form, rather one that demands to be seen.

Yes. And I’m very private with my art. I just want to be alone when I’m working. But there’s a public part to it. With graffiti, you can paint a wall by yourself at night and no one is going to see it. You just let people discover it the next day. It’s about that social interaction.

Thinking about people keeps me interested and motivated. I compose and create art about Los Angeles, so it would be weird to not think of its inhabitants. I interact with them visually through my work. I don’t want to create art that’s only in museums when there are so many other interactions to be had in the city.


Is the accessibility of art something that’s important to you?

It’s about inclusion. I understand that art can quickly become this unattainable thing. You might be motivated to make money from it – which is great, nothing wrong with that. But three years later you might be like – why am I doing this again?

I just want to keep checking in with myself. Otherwise the work might become soulless. An expensive wallpaper for collectors. With the art that I make, I try to be useful. I try to reach the inhabitants of the city because they are ultimately who I’m speaking to.


What kind of topics are you speaking about right now?

Currently, I’m creating a third space for myself – discovering myself in the work. I try to combine tapestries together to explain my complicated background as a person that occupies space in Los Angeles.

I also focus on messaging which mirrors the times we are living in. There’s beauty and enjoyment in the world, but there are also bad and hurtful things which need to be acknowledged. To be an artist is to pay attention. I want to pay attention to everything. I want to have a visual conversation with somebody and not just talk about one thing.


What side of Los Angeles are you trying to showcase with your art and how do you go about it visually?

I paint a lot of landscapes that represent another layer of LA, not just the Hollywood glitz and glamor. I often mention Robert Rauschenberg who said that he wanted the viewer to really pay attention to the surroundings. He was putting the viewer in the passenger seat and saying – look closely.

I’m taking materials from neighborhoods that are discounted and forgotten about, and using them to compose something that speaks to the places and communities which are here now but could disappear next year. Buildings are getting knocked down, big high-rises are going up… I’m trying to capture the disappearing community aesthetic.


Your practice has been described as cultural preservation. You are taking those elements of life from the city and allowing them to live forever through art.

It’s almost like being an archivist. Archiving feelings, materials, spaces, color and history.

Conflict (El Sereno To Alhambra) skateboard art by artist Patrick MARTINEZ

Is part of your process also actively connecting with those local communities?

I would say it’s serendipitous. I may be driving and looking around, and the landscape is offering me things. The discussions which inspire me happen through family, friends or people in the city. I might be working on something else, and they stop by to tell me about having to move, because their neighborhood is becoming gentrified and they can’t afford the city. This puts me in the reality of another piece, and then when I’m composing it, I find all the missing elements.

I’m not a reporter who goes out looking for stories, it’s more organic than that. I don’t know what the next five paintings are going to look like. It’s those serendipitous encounters with the city that dictate the next move.

Do you believe there is a certain social responsibility that comes with being an artist?

It’s something that’s important to me, but I wouldn’t necessarily put that on other people. It depends on what motivates each artist. For me, the work has to be layered. I don’t like thin paintings. I like there to be conflict in them. Not in a bad way, but in a way which makes me think, “I don’t understand this yet. I don’t feel like it’s resolved.” I think my work is a process of constantly “figuring it out”. There’s so much to talk about right now in the world, it’s almost impossible to not be a mirror of the times.

This push-and-pull of how things are versus how they should be is what interests me. Even the surface of a wall can reflect that. A business might have a mural on it that someone spray paints on, then it gets painted out, then someone else tags it again… This is movement. This is what painting is to me.

artist patrick martinez in his studio featuring skateboard art collection from the skateroom

Is it difficult to know when a painting is finished?

I usually know what result I want, but there have to be a few things that actively excite me about a piece. If I’m not excited, then it’s time to change direction. Last year, I was using broken up tiles in my artworks as mosaics. I didn’t have any points of reference for what a successful mosaic looks like, but I also wasn’t trying to find out. I was using it as paint, putting different colors together to create, eg. a field of orange. If that feels right and I’m starting to understand the language of the piece, and I’m able to experiment with it, then I feel like I can finish the piece. I need to be able to see it in my mind and know that it’s resolved.

There’s a lot of decision making that goes into art. In daily life, I’m very indecisive. But in my art, I’m very direct. It’s important to know what you want to see from the work. You have to almost have your vocabulary for what a “finish” is.


Sounds like the process is almost mathematical.

Totally. Sometimes you’re imagining certain materials layered and how they compose with each other. Other times, you’re trying to capture something very specific that you saw. It’s an exploration.


How does all of it translate into your collection with THE SKATEROOM?

Skate decks have always been a cool substrate for me. It’s very nostalgic. Growing up, there were a lot of kids around me skating. Even though I didn’t skate, it’s just one of those surfaces that I am familiar with. Seeing people skate all around the city, I feel like it creates the perfect home for my art. I’m always trying to occupy the space for the inhabitants of Los Angeles. These works come from the city, so it makes sense to place them on a surface that will traverse its terrain – a.k.a. a skate deck.

A lot of the materials present in the pieces – like tile, stucco, mural paintings and neons – are all things that you see in LA. This collection feels like home.


patrick_martinez_studio photographed by demarquis_mcdaniels

The city is present in each of the editions, along with some powerful messaging. “Emergency” was partly inspired by a quote from Rebecca Solnit: “Inside the word "emergency" is "emerge"; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”

I made this artwork during the pandemic. I wanted to have a visual of the book that I was reading and thinking about during this time. I imagined a broken neon sign with the word “emerge” as the focal point. From emergencies, like the pandemic, things come out. There’s so much going on in the world right now that this message applies to. Rebecca Solnit always talks about leaning into the unknown. Things may be tough, people might want to ignore them – it’s like growing pains. But, ultimately we have to hold on to hope. That’s all I’m left with at the end of the day. As long as we’re honest and we can agree on the reality of what’s going on, then hopefully something positive will come out of the emergency.


Emergency skateboard art by artist Patrick MARTINEZ

Do you have any obsession at the moment? Maybe there are some interesting books that you are reading?

I’m collecting a lot of 90’s LA graffiti t-shirts. They’re placing me back to when I was a teenager, back when I started. They remind me of the motivation I had in the beginning. It’s not that the graphics are really informing the work that I do, but it’s about reconnecting with that energy.

In terms of books, I’m reading “The Hundred Year War on Palestine” by Rashid Kalidi, as well as “Saving Time” by Jenny Odell. It’s talking about Western ideas of time. To be an artist is to push back on all those systems which see us as commodities. I’m very logical and I come from a working family which didn’t really understand what I did. A lot of people in this country will try to talk you out of this kind of dream, because they can’t see it for themselves. Saving time helps me to understand where I am, and to move away from certain social constructs – using time in a way that isn’t a linear 9-to-5, but a different set up. It helps me to ground myself and allows me to explain to people that art is nothing like traditional jobs. It’s not like becoming a dentist or getting a realtor’s license. There is no handbook to make it work. You have to operate in a different space and give yourself that time to make stuff. Time is so important. I think about it a lot.