Jamie Martinez: I haven’t been to the Elizabeth Foundation building in a while. Thanks for having me in your studio and showing me your work. Tell me about your background in the arts and your journey to NY?
Thank you for coming over, we had a great conversation! Let’s see. Well, I was born and raised in Santiago, Chile. Over there, I went to Business School for 5 years and got an undergraduate degree in Marketing, at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. When I finished, I couldn’t see myself working in that field, so I started pursuing my art career, seeing where I could go if I followed my passion. First, I took continuing education courses in Santiago, and then in London, at Central Saint Martins College of Art. I think there is where I realized I really wanted to get formal training in Art. How did I end up in NY? That’s a long story, but I’ll try to be brief! In 2010, I did a summer residency here at SVA, and NY blew my mind. I started working with objects on the street, developing a whole new language in my work. I had applied to several grad schools before coming, and was not accepted to any in the NYC area the first time. I ended up at the San Francisco Art Institute and I was there for a year. I took a lot of sculpture classes, they really gave me a lot of the tools I lacked because I had not been in art school before. Nevertheless, I was still obsessed with coming to NY, my work seemed to have a better fit here, since I was working mostly with found objects. San Francisco was too clean and pretty! I reapplied to schools here, with a completely new portfolio that I developed in the course of a year (including my residency here in NY and the year in school at SFAI) and was accepted to more than one school this time! I was very familiar with the program at SVA and really liked its professors, so I went with my instinct and decided to go there for my graduate degree. And..here I am!
Great journey to NYC. We have lots of found objects in this town. Why are you so drawn to working with them?
The minute I came here, I was immediately drawn to objects. I just followed my drive and started using them in a very instinctive manner, without much understanding of what I was doing. At the beginning, I would make temporary street interventions, and from there I started developing a whole new language, which is visually very distinctive. I came from painting. The readymade and the found allowed me to grasp sculpture, without necessarily having traditional building skills, in a very immediate way. It was an entry point into a whole new three-dimensional world and it also allowed me to engage in the public realm, when I interacted with these objects on the sidewalks.
I think New Yorkers have a funny relationship with trash, they walk past it and it doesn’t even call their attention. As a foreigner, coming from a culture where you pass things along, this was stunning to me. Not only the amount of things that are left on the streets, but also the particular placements, the way they are packed, stacked…I have been here for over six years and it still calls my attention.
And now you are currently working with non-found objects, right? Can you elaborate on why the change and the new process?
That is true. I have started incorporating some crafted elements too. Mainly ceramics and hand-woven textiles. I reconnected with ceramics and started playing with clay when I had access to a studio at two residency programs: ACRE and Triangle Workshop. I am creating pieces that slightly reference the found, but mostly, they represent imaginary objects that I wish to encounter in the real world, nonetheless, I would never actually be able to find. I make them in a very intuitive manner, without a specific destination in mind, but foreseeing that they can afterward find a place in an installation, an assemblage, or exist on their own. By combining found and made, I want to at the same time, blur and highlight their contrasting attributes: shiny surfaces against worn-out ones, color versus rust, rough textures against smooth ones…to transform the discarded and unwanted into something oddly desirable for the viewer. With the weavings, it is the same idea. I use materials that are at hand, like ropes, bubble wrap, duct tape, fabric… I also make a lot of two-dimensional works, where I explore improvisational mark-making and gestures, except instead of in space, on a piece of paper. In any case, for me, there is no hierarchy in terms of the materials. Just as an example, a drawing could totally be placed on the floor one day, and hung up on a wall on another occasion…
Who or what are some of your influences at this moment?
I think that what influenced me the most in the last couple of years is to actually have my studio at the Elizabeth Foundation. To work in the middle of the city and particularly in the heart of the Garment district has surely impacted my work and process. Walking by the fabric stores, the colors, the textures, the shiny surfaces, the iridescent ones..the excess of everything and amount of people that I am exposed to every day when making my way into the studio. I think it has unconsciously impacted my choice of materials and surely enhanced my interest in exploring fiber arts. Also my works on paper. I see a lot of that influence in them. In terms of artists, there are a lot of artists I like. Coincidentally most of them are female artists, like Jessica Stockholder, Katharina Grosse, Judy Pfaff, Joanne Greenbaum, Sheila Hicks, Polly Apfelbaum…
You recently did a street performance which included a barrel and two other performers in cool stripe suits. Can you tell me more about the project?
The performance was in the context of “Art in Odd Places”, a curated festival that takes place every year on 14th Street. I took a big and flashy PVC pipe tube sculpture, remnant from my public art installation at Randall’s Island Park. People were impromptu encouraged to help “schlepp” it through the sidewalks. The idea was to generate a moment of disruption and interaction with strangers. They engaged in an action that was playful and somehow absurd, yet at the same time a task that anyone living in New York can relate to. The action also refers to my personal experience as an artist who uses found objects, in terms of the logistical struggles and spontaneous interactions that dragging an unexpected object on the street always provoke. The suits were designed by artist Patricia Brace in response to the sculpture, when I invited her and artist Katie Hector to perform in my project. I really enjoyed interacting with people and seeing my work come to life in the public realm. I had never done a performance before and it was an amazing experience for me!
You recently participated in a group show during Art Basel week. How did it go and what other projects do you have coming up?
In December I participated in Young Initiatives in RAW, an exhibition that took place in the Historic Post Office in Miami during Basel week. I presented a participatory installation made with metallic shredded paper and tape. Viewers usually want to touch my work and they feel frustrated because they can’t! This time they were allowed to manipulate the material and actually take part in shaping the work itself, which changed every day depending on their interaction with the material. Not knowing how it would eventually turn out was both, exciting and a bit nerve-wracking, but it was definitely a direction I wanted to explore in my work! As for next year, I have some upcoming group exhibitions, and I also have my first solo show in Hoboken, NJ at Proto Gallery. The gallery started representing me this year and I am extremely happy to work with them. It is a very nurturing community and I have engaged with a lot of amazing artists through them. The show will probably include a lot of ceramics and textiles, which is what I have been mostly working on for the last couple of months. The physical space is pretty big so there are a lot of options as to how the installation can be approached. I am looking forward to it!