Tran­si­tiv­ity in Frank Martínez Work

Art On Cuba - - Index - Maeva Peraza

The work by Frank Martínez (Ha­vana, 1972) builds an al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity where what is ref­er­en­tial oc­cu­pies a priv­i­leged place. His art fo­cuses cul­tural tra­di­tions, ac­knowl­edged or con­tro­ver­sial char­ac­ters and rel­e­vant events in Cuban and univer­sal his­tory: hence the fan­ta­siz­ing of the artist is based on a re­search of fun­da­men­tal his­tor­i­cal pe­ri­ods the hu­man be­ing has gone through. But di­verse ex­is­ten­tial cir­cum­stances also de­fine his cre­ation; his train­ing as an en­graver, to­gether with the study of print­ing tech­niques as a con­cept, gen­er­ated visual ar­chi­tec­tures where a re­fine­ment of the forms that would fi­nally take him to the se­duc­tion and clean­li­ness of the draw­ing was per­ceived.

In a first mo­ment, his aca­demic stay in the High In­sti­tute of Arts (ISA in its Span­ish acro­nym) dur­ing the nineties had a bear­ing on sev­eral keys of his later work. Frank Martinez's pass­ing through that school was marked by the con­flu­ence with strong cre­ative per­son­al­i­ties in its en­grav­ing work­shop, which made a di­a­logue tran­scend­ing the work­shop's space pos­si­ble and was also de­fined by the in­flu­ence of pro­fes­sor Lupe Ál­varez who, with the aware­ness of a new gen­er­a­tion, shaped the cre­ative spirit of a huge part of the to­day known visual pro­duc­ers who re­ceived her classes on Aes­thet­ics. On this stage, the artist con­ceived his pieces as a re­ac­tion to his own mean of ex­e­cu­tion, try­ing to ap­proach the tech­nique and the top­ics as if they were a sin­gle ref­er­ent, a way in which many works cre­ated a meta­lan­guage where the en­grav­ing ques­tioned and looked for an­swers in it­self.

The works from this pe­riod were mostly made in silk-screen, dry­point or xy­log­ra­phy, and in­quired into Cuban cul­tural tra­di­tions, linked to an­thro­po­log­i­cal con­cepts by au­thors like Fer­nando Or­tiz and Manuel Moreno Frag­i­nals. Mu­sic, as orig­i­nal liturgy and ex­pres­sion, was also a re­cur­ring theme dur­ing this stage, high­light­ing the struc­tural com­plex­ity of the in­stru­ments and the in­ter­pre­ta­tive lack of mod­er­a­tion in gen­res like jazz. These top­ics draw at­ten­tion to a taste by the artist to ap­proach “the other”, which has usu­ally been omit­ted or sat­i­rized, although his in­ter­ests go be­yond an ap­proach to cul­ture as a space of lib­er­a­tion, while also ex­plor­ing the cyn­i­cism or hu­mor of daily sit­u­a­tions ex­plic­itly stated from the ti­tles them­selves, as eclec­tic as the work they la­bel; pieces as Para que veas como queda grabado and A taco per­dido, ganan­cia de ob­ser­vadores ex­press that sar­casm in the body-lan­guage of the char­ac­ters and its stag­ing.

Frank Martínez's graphic work, although mostly en­com­pass­ing con­ven­tional for­mats, also in­ter­acts with ob­jects and in­stal­la­tions, so his en­grav­ing ma­te­ri­al­izes reach­ing new mean­ings. The piece Hielo (Ice) is one of the best achieved ex­am­ples of his “graphic in­stal­la­tions”, for which the cre­ator printed the im­age of the Egyp­tian pyra­mids on more than a hun­dred dis­pos­able di­a­pers, thus ac­ti­vat­ing a con­trast pro­gres­sively ap­pear­ing in his work: the strug­gle be­tween what is ephemeral and what is per­ma­nent, what is un­der­used and ba­nal be­fore the fos­siliza­tion of His­tory.

Of the pieces flirt­ing with ob­jects, 1/10 stands out be­cause of its mul­ti­ple read­ings, where the artist re­it­er­ates ten times on the glass the ver­si­cle No lo pienso repe­tir (I don't think I will re­peat it), thus ac­ti­vat­ing forces in op­po­si­tion and con­tra­dict­ing this pos­tu­late in its form; and Lo in­her­ente a nues­tra cul­tura, Difer­entes Im­pre­siones, also stands out func­tion­ing as a study of the cul­tural sta­tus of com­mon men who, from their per­cep­tion, in­tend to ex­plain what they un­der­stand as cul­ture, but their voices di­lute in mul­ti­plic­ity, in the mur­mur of in­signif­i­cance. The work, made from five por­traits that in their cir­cu­lar form re­minds the emis­sion struc­ture of a par­a­bolic an­tenna, shows in a sug­ges­tive way the var­i­ous so­cial strata which make up the na­tion. In­stal­la­tion works set­tle on the search of con­flic­tive means, which even con­tra­dict, only in ap­pear­ance, the works them­selves. Frank Martínez in­tends his pieces to in­ter­act with the re­ceiver and to be the start­ing point of de­bate and polemics.

Although the graphic work of the artist op­er­ates as a trans­mit­ter of mean­ings in its mul­ti­plic­ity, it is nec­es­sary to high­light an ex­hi­bi­tion that, be­cause of its con­no­ta­tion, sum­ma­rizes an en­tire cre­ative cy­cle: La téc­nica es la téc­nica (The Tech­nique Is the Tech­nique), ex­hib­ited in Casa de las Améri­cas dur­ing 2002, as La Joven Es­tampa award he had re­ceived the year be­fore. The ex­hi­bi­tion, as fore­boded in the ti­tle, stands out be­cause of a pre­sen­ta­tion of di­verse for­mu­la­tions in en­grav­ing, from which a self-ref­er­en­tial speech on the tech­nique and the “in­ter­est of ma­nip­u­lat­ing cer­tain me­dia to talk on that eter­nal du­bi­ta­tion of the union”1 de­rive. Here the artist of­fers the cre­ative strug­gles of the graph, show­ing the au­totrophic dis­tinc­tion of the en­grav­ing, para­dox­i­cally con­di­tioned by its lim­i­ta­tions but also by its in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties. One of the out­stand­ing pieces in that group was Difer­entes im­pre­siones in­di­vid­uales gen­eran una gran im­pre­sión colec­tiva (Dif­fer­ent In­di­vid­ual Im­pres­sions Cre­ate a Great Collective Im­pres­sion), where the im­age of the dis­jointed man be­comes a sort of mech­a­nism to as­sem­ble, as an un­fin­ished self-por­trait, thus show­ing that the artist is not only rest­less to over­come the tech­nique, but also to ac­cen­tu­ate a sug­ges­tion on the viewer, an in­ti­macy in its top­ics.

A some­what spe­cial vari­a­tion took place in Frank Martínez's artis­tic jour­ney, who moved away from his praxis as an en­graver grad­u­ally ap­proach­ing draw­ing and us­ing ref­er­ents in which he ex­plic­itly states a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est on North Amer­i­can cul­ture and his­tory. It is well known that en­grav­ing has been seen as a mi­nor, and even sec­tar­ian, genre within visual arts, and the mar­ket has nei­ther been kind with the con­cept of edi­tion or of mul­ti­ple­o­rig­i­nal, ac­tions that have made more than an artist search for other cre­ative paths. But in the case of Frank Martínez, the change is es­pe­cially due to his in­ter­est in mak­ing the process of telling sto­ries vi­able with­out the me­di­a­tion of pro­duc­tion time in the work­shop and his in­ten­tion of mak­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the au­thor and his work much more dy­namic. In this sense, the se­ries Cot­ton (2008) acts as a hinge when pass­ing to draw­ing with a clearly neo-his­tori­cist trend. The col­lec­tion for­mally achieves an in­ter­ac­tion be­tween draw­ing and en­grav­ing as a du­al­ity uni­fy­ing the works. The artist tack­les the cause of the trip, but par­tic­u­lar­izes in two dif­fer­ent trips, one of them framed in the com­fort and the con­ser­va­tive North Amer­i­can cul­ture of the fifties in the past cen­tury, when the so-called “Amer­i­can dream” was built; and the other path cen­tered on the readi­ness of black slaves in trains and ships head­ing for de­ri­sion and sub­mis­sive­ness, which iron­i­cally be­comes the sup­port of the first. The im­ages—with a clear pop in­flu­ence—of the com­fort and lux­ury in planes and trains are sur­passed by the suc­cinct pres­ence of blacks in their pre­car­i­ous­ness. In that se­ries, draw­ing is con­ceived as the main scenog­ra­phy, but seri­graphic print­ing is kept as a com­ple­ment, thus achiev­ing a su­per­po­si­tion of con­cepts in the work and pro­vok­ing the con­trasts that so much in­ter­est the artist.

Some keys of his for­mer work sur­vive in this stage and new in­ter­ests which will later reap­pear with greater strength are dis­cerned, shap­ing the pe­cu­liar style of the artist. First of all, the ab­sence of color in his vi­su­al­iza­tion stands out; the en­tire work opts for the use of white and black, try­ing to en­dow the im­ages with a lit­tle colder and alien his­toric­ity—since the events are al­most al­ways ma­nip­u­lated—, and to re­move any ba­nal at­trac­tion. The ap­proach to rel­e­vant events in univer­sal his­tory, but es­pe­cially in the North Amer­i­can one, starts from the prin­ci­ple of a pho­to­graphic ap­pro­pri­a­tion the artist per­son­al­izes through draw­ing, mak­ing in closer to the per­son re­ceiv­ing it.

Lit­eral (2012-2014) is the se­ries which will de­fine Frank Martínez's re­cent at­ten­tion cen­ters, ex­clu­sively char­ac­ter­ized by a draw­ing with some rem­i­nis­cences of pic­to­rial hy­per­re­al­ism. In this group, the plea­sure to por­tray scenes of the United States life and his­tory is still kept, since the artist un­der­stands that ge­o­graphic and cul­tural prox­im­ity is some­thing un­avoid­ably link­ing us. The pieces high­light cru­cial mo­ments, frozen in sug­ges­tive scenes, which have been slightly con­tex­tu­al­ized anew and cloaked by a new con­no­ta­tion. Thus, the ar­rival of Amer­i­can troops to the Philip­pines in the case of Ac­ci­den­tal; the greet­ing, sup­pos­edly cor­dial, be­tween Ger­ald and Betty

Ford and Richard and Pat Nixon dur­ing the farewell of this last pres­i­dent in the White House, in Movimiento de cuadros; the stag­ing of Martin Luther King mur­der, in Un­ti­tled; or, sim­ply, Elvis Pres­ley swim­ming in trop­i­cal wa­ters watched by two ex­pec­tant sub­jects on the break­wa­ter in Amer­i­can Dreams, are brought up to date.

The above­men­tioned works show the ea­ger­ness, present in Frank Martínez's com­plete oeu­vre, of en­dow­ing his char­ac­ters with an in­di­vid­ual psy­chol­ogy, whether be­ing com­mon sub­jects or char­ac­ters with a very world­wide well-known pub­lic na­ture. The ref­er­ents are found in var­i­ous pho­to­graphic works by

Robert Frank and Walker Evans, as well as in photo-re­ports in Life mag­a­zine, which marked mile­stones be­cause of be­ing con­tro­ver­sial or hit­ting the head­lines with top­ics like racism and vi­o­lence. The ap­pro­pri­a­tion of these im­ages is not for­tu­itous. To se­lect them, the artist makes a metic­u­lous re­search on the ori­gin and orig­i­nal con­text of each one and these are the dis­tinc­tions jus­ti­fy­ing their place­ment on a new stage.

For its part, the se­ries Re­al­ity (2015- ) main­tains points of con­tact with the for­mer project. The ti­tle it­self plays with the ironies of the rep­re­sen­ta­tions that like to change re­al­ity when in­vent­ing sto­ries with his­tor­i­cal facts. Ex­hib­ited in the mega ex­hi­bi­tion Zona Franca, col­lat­eral to the Twelfth Ha­vana Bi­en­nial, this se­ries main­tains the taste for pho­to­graphic ap­pro­pri­a­tion, but this se­lec­tion im­plies a step for­ward in the artist's searches, since this time the break­downs in his­tor­i­cal chronol­ogy are found in more spe­cific as­pects. On them, the artist com­ments in his state­ment:

Their se­lec­tion is jus­ti­fied by the fact that these works, in their rep­re­sen­ta­tion, in­tend to sug­gest al­ter­na­tives to the re­al­ity shown by the me­dia and what is im­posed as the “truth”. There­fore, they talk about the un-knowl­edge by the viewer of his re­al­ity. This se­man­tic am­bi­gu­ity in­tends to dis­man­tle the logic of the orig­i­nal event, of­fer­ing other read­ings from art.2

It could be said that Frank Martínez has re­vis­ited the an­thro­po­log­i­cal as­pect of his work, rather mov­ing away from mass cul­ture to give space to na­tive pop­u­la­tions and the be­hav­ior of spe­cific eth­nic groups. In this case, the work Reserva (Reser­va­tion) il­lus­trates the pe­cu­liar tran­sit of African Ma­sais through a west­ern en­vi­ron­ment, where a poster read­ing Danger, Be­ware of the Na­tives can be read as an anachro­nism. Land Art also shows that in­ter­est in eth­no­log­i­cal com­po­nents: in it, the Nazca lines, with their sym­bolic fig­ures, turn into a sort of war map show­ing the lo­ca­tion of mis­siles and ar­ma­ments.

But none of these move­ments is un­called-for in the works of Frank Martínez, an artist who likes to “trans­late” sto­ries on the can­vases and, when do­ing so, ends up up­dat­ing or rein­vent­ing them. The first log­i­cal tran­sit in his work re­sults in a con­flic­tive process of find­ing a ref­er­ent, con­sciously ma­nip­u­late it and then trans­fer­ing it to the can­vas. The sec­ond con­sists in vary­ing or chang­ing iconic pho­to­graphs and, con­se­quently, ma­nip­u­lat­ing the order of the events plac­ing them in a con­tem­po­rary en­vi­ron­ment. Other of the reshuf­fles his work ex­pe­ri­ences is to be found on the path cho­sen by the artist to make the co­ex­is­tence of a hege­monic cul­ture fea­si­ble, as the North Amer­i­can is with the oth­er­ness of Cuban cul­ture and his­tory. There are other mo­bil­i­ties, la­tent in turn­ing what is cult with what is pop­u­lar, what is se­ri­ous with that is joc­u­lar, what is old with what is new, and what is sa­cred with what is pro­fane, but “tran­si­tiv­ity” not only im­plies an ef­fec­tive process on the ref­er­en­tial or con­cep­tual level, but also a func­tion­al­ity of these ef­forts in the visual field. It is pre­cisely in this field where mu­ta­tions are valid for the artist, where the end justifies the means.

Frank Martínez's work con­cil­i­ates, in a pe­cu­liar way, the en­graver with the drafts­man, the eclec­tic graphic with pho­to­graphic re­for­mu­la­tion. The nexus con­nect­ing his en­tire cre­ation starts from the stroke as architecture of the work, as a prece­dent for any pic­to­rial re­flec­tion. That is how the frames be­tween one and the other become blurred. The artist does not con­sider him­self frag­mented, but the re­al­ity he is so in­ter­ested in ap­pre­hend­ing is. At least for the mo­ment it can­not be any other way. ƒ

Frank Martínez opts for the use of white and black, try­ing to en­dow the im­ages with a lit­tle colder and alien his­toric­ity, and to re­move any ba­nal at­trac­tion…

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