Homage to Artists

An Interview with André Martinez-Reed:

“Homage to Artists”

André Martinez-Reed, besides being a percussionist with Cecil Taylor in his early years, is also a painter as exhibited at the Henry Gregg Gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn, from January 28 to March 15, 2009. His show entitled “Homage” is a reflection of inspired portraits of various friends, well-known artists and other iconic portraits. The centered portraits are trigger points for other images and landscapes that appear in the background. 

His 11 titles begin with the word “Homage to”… with individual paintings dedicated to DaVinci, Courbet, Degas, Medici, El Greco, Monet, Goya, Francis Bacon, George Washington and Justin Michael Nygaard” The last name is a young adolescent who had tragically died and is titled “Spirit in the Sky”.   In this painting, André is capturing the boy’s innocent spirit and musical interests as depicted by energetic yellow and grey-blue tones of violent euphoric clouds flourishing around the 19 year old boy’s portrait.  Upon hearing the boy’s unusual rare diseased death, André pictorially describes his ascendancy to heaven in this painting. 

André’s painterly style allows an open interpretation of “other” images to enter the canvas whereby the viewer‘s focus become focused on the developed vague images surrounding the centered portrait. These images or shapes might be the artist’s muse or the source of inspiration. As André paint the various portraits apparitions emerges. 

In “Homage to DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa”: André describes images not realized previously. The painting is a contemporary rendition of a woman’s portrait in blue green background with vertical and horizontal strokes criss-crossing. On the right side of the portrait of Mona Lisa is a faint image of DaVinci’s well-known iconic self-portrait according to André but I see a self-portrait of André. 

Standing in front the painting “Homage to Fritz Scholder” or  “the Spirit Walker-Eyes of the Hawk”, André explains their overlapping lives for being Latinos with blonde and blue eyes of Native, South, and Central American descent. However, Fritz also has Germanic ancestry. This painting has red and greenish tones that merge to shadowy earth tones with many images surrounding the rendered portrait of a hollowed-eye face with a valley painted on his chest suggesting home. André indicates a howling wolf on the viewer’s right side where spirits are arising while the lower section is murky indicating a “landscape of one’s beautiful land slowly but surely are disappearing.” André optimistically believes that “whatever was stolen would be returned to the rightful master. It is universal according to the law of karma.”  

The next painting “Homage to Degas-In the Shadows I Live” (48x48), 2008 depicts a masked ballerina on her left toes poised with arms and legs in opposite directions precariously supported by a male partner suggesting Olga Preobrajenska and Rudolf Nureyev. The painting is in blue monochromes, ranging from white blue to black blue horizontal and vertical strips. This painting might be incomplete because there were no apparitions in the background. 

Moving on to the next painting, André called it “Homage to the Medicis-Grace”, 2008 (48 x 60), the well-known patrons of Michelangelo and DaVinci. The portrait is a French bewigged, court figure that stares out of the canvas and with André’s broad-brush strokes, one can decipher characteristics image of a face bigger than the portrait streaked in red and blue painterly strokes. André says it to be a “replica of Michelangelo’s statues as part of the whole experience,” and where one foot is deeply in the past and the other running into the future but gracefully.” Thus, the additional title “Grace”. 

André continued to talk about how he constantly sees figures reappearing in his paintings which “is truly magical” and to him, “It lives. Thus becoming a living entity.” He quotes Dali, “If you understand your painting before you paint it, might as well not paint it.” 

In the next painting, André began a Mona Lisa but ended up doing a portrait of her Master, DaVinci, who looks like an old sage. On the DaVinci’s left, André describes an ancient Chinese figure signifying “the oldest art form” and a civilization as old as Mesopotamia. 

André uses various mediums, of layered oils, inks, varnish, chalks lead, and Venetian plasters to capture the “other” world.  In using these mediums, André describes it as “channeling’ where he is in a hypnotic, energetic state as verified by his broad, quick, dry brush strokes. 

He explains how Jeffery Wright, the actor who performed as Basquiat, would get into character by “surrendering and criss crossing, allowing the self becomes a vessel”. Often musicians and dancers of the Caribbean’s interact in a frenzy of ecstasy to the rhythms of Orisha and thus are infuse with “other” spirits. This form of religion is “Santeria”. 

André does not plan his paintings but follows “just a feeling”. During the interview, André explains the Roberto Silva exercises that utilize the right brain for drawing and eventually leads to ESP. He is an artist possessed and delving into the spiritual world whether via aural music or visually as a painter and photographer. André’s paintings reflect his experience or communication referencing to the portrait painted on that particular canvas.  He explains “his techniques used are unanswerable” as “hypnotized” and unable to tell how they were exactly painted. … Using thousands of strokes and techniques  … a journey of the next beat, the next note …cadence next explosive section”. … often working on each canvas about five at a time simultaneously as if having conversations with the portraits.  

André explains, “That becomes part of the paranormal.” Il billa testimo, in Hispanic, means connecting with the spiritual world or connecting with your ancestors. This is normal for us but for others it makes them nervous.”  (chucklechuckle)  

In addition to painting, André exhibited some of his photographs that depict “other” unusual imageries especially one entitled “The Miracle”. “Another appearance” he said and did not go much in explanatory depth but referred to a photo of his kitchen floor that has a boy’s facial reflection with several ominous dark figures that André states “some story trying to unveil itself”, (another mystery). 

Another photo is of a friend’s bathroom wall taken as a ”self-portrait”. It was difficult to see the photographer’s image but there is a faint outline of a photographer among the dark red and shadowy tiles that suggest menacing eerie shapes and forms. On the side, a faint lion’s head is discerned. These are just a few photographs from André’s “Spirit Hunter” series. 

Overall, André’s backgrounds are just important as the foreground portrait and from the viewer’s perspective, he/she might see another figure, image, or just a colored wall.  Most likely, it will be another image. 

This artist’s purpose is to paint for future generations and keeping alive homages to the artist and his/her muse.

Reviewed by Susan L. Yung