Patrick Martinez: America Is For Dreamers
through April 7
Vincent Price Museum, Monterey Park
By Kathy Zimmerer
Patrick Martinez continues to explore timely and out-sized social justice issues in his neon, ceramic and mixed media installations in his exhibit America is For Dreamers at the Vincent Price Museum. He is known for his marvelous Pee Chee paintings where he takes a familiar everyday object and transforms it into an incisive painting rallying against police brutality. What could be more banal than the Pee Chee folders used by every suburban high school student, especially in the fifties, sixties and seventies? The viewer does a double take at his linear scenes, instead of innocuous, vintage images of students with books; police beat a suspect without the viewer knowing what the suspect has done to provoke this violent and unthinking reaction. The contrast between the innocence of the Pee Chee format with the deadly force is mesmerizing.
His simple neon signs on display in the museum have the same internal dichotomy, as his writings express the obvious with an undercurrent of racial tension as in Freedom Cannot Wait, or Brown Owned, or the exhibit title: “America is For Dreamers.” These neon signs are very effectively grouped together and form a wall of brilliant light, their glowing letters still function as chilling ads for a business or neighborhood, with a deep sense of existing internal contradiction. Installed with cords dangling, these act as chains, holding the bold political statements together.
Using glowing pastel colors, dilapidated tile, cement and stucco, he recreates the suburban environment of the San Gabriel Valley in his mixed media wall pieces and installations. With Pepto Bismol pink surfaces and scenes of the ideal California in neon, such as palm trees and the beach, as well as painted fragments of graffiti signs and installed walls that both let in and keep out the neighbors, these familiar riffs on the urban and suburban environment resonate with fear. He delves into the issue of rapid gentrification overcoming such neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights, where even art galleries are looked on with loathing as the beginning of an overwhelming tide of new businesses that will put longtime renters at risk. Also, these images dovetail neatly and expand questions about the current DACA crisis, which Trump says now, will be handled with “love”, as the bipartisan negotiations about immigration continue. Now the imminent threat of deportation for Salvadorans is a frightening new reality for families, and Martinez nails the current climate of hostility in these seemingly bland stucco facades surrounded by flowers in jewel-like hues and luminous neon. Will there be more deportations, will the uncertainty and chaos for immigrants continue? These mixed media installations are deeply layered and although seemingly bright, pretty and superficial, they become an embodiment of home that seems far away for the dreamers and any other group currently targeted by the current administration.
A brilliant draftsman as seen in his Pee Chee folder paintings, he is at home and fluid in all media, his simple neon text is compelling and stunning, while the mixed media stucco facades, graffiti signs, neon writing and imagery and delicate ceramic flowers have an eerie resemblance to the real neighborhoods, and capture the beauty of the quintessential Angeleno home.