Preserving the Past, Invigorating the Present: Art by Gabriel Martinez (NSFW)

Author | Nick Santa-Donato

Artist Gabriel Martinez enlightens issues of race, gender, socio-economic status, body image, iconography, and nostalgia [just a few] in his plethoric use of medium and personal narrative. Starting out primarily in photography, Gabriel eventually sought out performance and installation for the extremity of expression they both offered. He strives ultimately to stimulate and provoke conversation between older and younger generations.

Scope Art Fair
Scope Art Fair

During our frank conversation Gabriel and I discussed three major moments in the evolution of his work’s content, each of which I think taps into a fundamentally different aspect of past and present ‘gay culture.’ What makes Martinez’s evolution unique is his fearlessness to confront gay stereotypes with humor and shock, but also with genuine analysis and consideration. Early performance pieces such as ‘100 percent body surface’ inform notions of personal insecurities, self-consciousness, and body image. Or as Gabriel so eloquently puts it, the “tyrannical bombardment of advertisements within the gay community of iconic, muscular men.” Soon to follow was a radical switch to the gay/straight male fascination stereotype. In one series entitled ‘Self Portraits by Heterosexual Men,’ Gabriel photographed the feet of one hundred straight men during orgasm. The pictures were then framed in small, ornate, gold frames – just one example of how his work provokingly combines curiosity, familiarity, beauty, and repulsion.

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Self Portraits of Heterosexual Men >> Alejandro
Self Portraits of Heterosexual Men >> Alejandro

Most recently Gabriel is concerned with the relationship between older and younger generations and the future of the gay ‘community’ at large (we also discussed issues with the concept of community). Many recent works were inspired by the numerous research projects Gabriel has accomplished. One project (and my personal favorite from this era of his work) parallels the time he spent doing research at the John J Wilcox Jr. Archives. There, Gabriel handled a collection of prints from the 1970s by Harry Eberlin who was the Philadelphia Gay News’ first photographer. “I was interested in the allusion to mending and healing…the sense of liberation combined with the foreshadowing of a darker time,” Gabriel said. “These prints are an important document of our history and their preservation is imperative.” He wonders if the current generation (myself included) maintains a sense of respect for those who lived through the aids epidemic even though we are henceforth so dramatically removed. The photographic collection entitled ‘Archive’ is perhaps the simplest yet most direct conceptualization of this quandary: a series of photographs of photographs being handled with care, time, and respect makes us question whether or not we treat our historical awareness the same way.

Archive (10)
Archive (10)
Archive (13)
Archive (13)
Archive (14)
Archive (14)

Gabriel hopes that if he were to fill a role as an artist and an openly gay Latino man it would “be that of a conduit between the two generations, as inter-generational mediator.” To speak to Mr. Martinez was to speak to someone who holistically embodies this role. His work is provocative, jarring, and visceral, but somehow comforting and nostalgic. And his message, whether or not crystal clear in his work at first glance, is ultimately hopeful. His work brings the personal to the forefront – whether this means shedding light on humor, political angst, or individual struggles, Gabriel is not one to shy away from any subject in need of illumination or expression. He believes in human connections through shared experiences and art is an experience readily available for sharing.

Untitled (gang bang) video still
Untitled (gang bang) video still
Untitled >> Reach!
Untitled >> Reach!
Goya Series
Goya Series
Group Configuration (triangle)
Group Configuration (triangle)

Some of Gabe’s most personal work deals with his icon, Donna Summer. When I asked him what he thinks makes a “gay diva icon’ and if that has changed over time, he spoke about the sense of gay education that came with diva iconography.

Vinyl Abstractions: Donna Summer, Theme from The Deep (A Love Song), 2011-2013 Archival water-based airbrush acrylic paint, acrylic enamel, and direct gloss acrylic urethane on vinyl
Vinyl Abstractions: Donna Summer, Theme from The Deep (A Love Song), 2011-2013
Archival water-based airbrush acrylic paint, acrylic enamel, and direct gloss acrylic urethane on vinyl

“The culture surrounding these women is where you learned how to be gay. We learned how to laugh at and with ourselves, and I’m not sure that exists as universally today. I feel that there are two types of thought among specifically gay men: those who are really grateful and excited for equality, and those who don’t agree with equality in that way and strive to express their difference. I see both sides, but people are much more serious.”

We talked at length about whether or not there exists (or should even exist) a contemporary gay community and while I would love to tell you that we came to a solid conclusion, it would be a big lie.

I know I am about to sound naïve and yes, maybe a little ‘gay’ (cough cough pardon the stereotype), but the truth is while there are serious issues facing all facets of the queer community – violence and prejudice are absolutely alive – the country is a bit more inclusive than it was even five years ago (recent racial events notwithstanding). And while I have no clue what the best movement for change is – I am sure Gabriel would back me up on this – maybe I can at least learn to every once in a while laugh at myself, dance to my Divas, and appreciate the community of individuals that made my current gay/queer life more than decent. Plus, having an artist like Gabe spell all of this out for you in his work never hurts either.

Academic Nudes >> Layback
Academic Nudes >> Layback
Studs, Fame, Philly Jacks
Studs, Fame, Philly Jacks
Untitled Self Portraits #6
Untitled Self Portraits #6

For additional information please visit www.gabrielmartinez.com

 

Posture Magazine
Posture Magazine

Posture is a queer-run art and fashion magazine that features the most brilliant and rebellious creators of our time.