Jet Martinez tells us how coming in contact with some of the great works of Mexican Muralism as a child growing up in mexico was some of the first steps of inspiration in his life and how it can have deep cultural importance – which pushed him to move to San Francisco to become an artist. The importance of enjoying the process and not to pigeon hole yourself.
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into art and falling in love with it? And how did you get started? I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw or paint. From an early age, I have made a connection between my art and my life. In my childhood I moved a lot. Drawing and painting were some of the main constants in my life. They were also a way for me to make connections with new people in new places. That has carried on throughout my life.
I was lucky enough to have spent part of my childhood in Mexico where I came in contact with some of the great works of Mexican Muralism by some of the greats including Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco, Camarena, Tamayo and many others. Their work made a huge impression on me. When I really started to take my art practice seriously, they were some of my touchstones in setting artistic goals. They were shining examples that painting, and art in general, can have a deep cultural importance, and I wanted to be a part of that tradition.
I originally went to University to study Spanish Literature. While I drew and painted quite a bit, I hadn’t taken many art classes in high school or my first years in College, so it just wasn’t something I considered as a viable way to make a living. (Not like Spanish lit was going to make a fortune either, haha). In my third year of school I took a painting class and enjoyed it so much I decided to drop everything else. I dropped out of school and spent the next couple years building up a portfolio to go into art school. I moved to San Francisco in 1996 to go to the San Francisco Art Institute. SF felt wild and open then. I cut my teeth painting murals in cutty spots all over town. San Francisco and the greater Bay Area have nurtured a beautiful balance of graffiti starting in the 1970’s, and public muralism dating back to the 1930’s and even further. The streets of San Francisco were a perfect place for me to get started on my career because I could tap right into my own artistic cultural heritage, while tapping into the newer forms of street painting that were and are still going on.
What does a typical working day include for you right now? If I’m on a local mural: Up at 6:30. After kids are off to school…. head to the site, paint all day. Home for dinner and family time. Get kids to bed. Do some office, email, and social media work. Into the studio till 12:30- 1am. Repeat.
If I’m on a travel mural: Up at 6:30 Breakfast. Paint 12- 16 hours. Call home, dinner, emails. Draw a little. Bed. Repeat
If I’m working on paintings for a show or proposals for murals: Up at 6:30. Get kids to school. Emails, etc. Paint, draw, all day. Get kids, family time. Kids to bed. Into the studio till 12-2am. Repeat.
Any passion projects you would like to share? Over the last couple years the projects I have been working on have been increasing in size and scope at times I felt like I have given a little slack on quality to gain quantity. There is a real push in public painting work to keep going more and more massive. I am also a fan of massive work.
Recently, however, I’ve started a series of smaller mural pieces that are much more about quality than quantity. It’s got me thinking about small walls and the intimate impact that they can have. Little public walls filled with detail and the highest level work I can produce.
The body of work I’m really stoked to start up is series of small scale murals featuring animal and floral motifs. In this case, the animals will represent different prayer elements for the communities they are in. For example: The first piece in this series was a medium sized (10’x 22’) floral composition featuring a psychedelic translucent armadillo. I was thinking a lot about homeless people in San Francisco and all over, really. The armadillo for me is a representation of an animal that is self sufficient and capable of shielding itself. Both strange and elegant, for me they are a symbol of resilience. If a mural could be a spell, this one was meant to give some shielding to those who are most exposed and to be a symbol for survival and resourcefulness.
The most recent one was a small (7’x7’) floral composition featuring a unicorn, painted in SF’s Mission district. The unicorn in this case is meant as a totem of magic. To make a long story short, the Mission District of San Francisco is a magical place that is currently experiencing a lot of upheaval. There is an adversarial vibe to the place right now. While I fully acknowledge there are fucked up things going on there with gentrification, etc… I think it’s important to have symbols that represent what we are striving to preserve. I think that preserving magic and creativity is an important part of preserving the character of that, or any other neighborhood
My passion project is to do a series of small, intimate public murals. They will be very detailed and ornate. Bold contrasts, smooth fades, crisp linework. Then animals. Then a lot of intent to please eyes. Human scale will be emphasized. Positive intentions. Topics I am thinking of addressing include loneliness, parenthood, trust, insignificance, joy, etc.
I’m excited because I will be able to put a lot of detail and embellishment on things that I know I wont get stuck on for too long. That way I will be able to be more fluid between larger projects and shows. I’m also really going to push a psychedelic tendency in my work that I have been trying to suppress for a few years . It’s my own private project and I’m excited to see it come into life.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way? – Be nice. – Taking pride in your work doesn’t always mean you stand unapologetically behind your work. It can also mean that you look for flaws and work on them. – Drink water. – I’m not talented enough that I don’t have to work hard… But I can enjoy the work. – Breathe. – Creating beautiful things can be a revolutionary act. – Listen. – My process requires disciplined daydreaming .
What advice would you give students starting out? I’ve had some great advice in the past. Some advice actually worked for me by doing the exact opposite.
For someone starting out, I’d say the best thing is to stay humble enough that you don’t feel like you have to lock into a defining style right off the bat. There is no need to pigeon hole yourself. While taking your craft seriously and learning about it in a disciplined way, it’s important to enjoy the process… even if it’s in a self destructive way.
Working when none is looking or paying attention to you is the most important thing.