The taking of an idea and slightly altering it, over and over again, can often be more interesting than the executed initial idea itself, as anyone who has ever listened to, say, a Philip Glass opera or seen the current process-oriented Matisse exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art can appreciate. Over at the Journal Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, painter Eddie Martinez is experimenting with this idea in an installation of his Matador paintings where a grouping of abstract forms occurs over and over again with messy alterations. Martinez made them all in one long, self-imposed studio struggle, with five paintings from the series of ten shown in the gallery.
The work I’d seen from Martinez before was all very figurative, with frenetic groupings of smeared figures, like his 28-foot-long “The Feast” from 2010 with shaky figures that had an R. Crumb unease to them seated at a laden table. While I did feel more immediately engaged with those works, it’s interesting to see an artist who is so adept at creating those chaotic figures move totally to these repeating shapes, reducing it all to his physical painting style.
Martinez paints in a flurry in his studio, blaring music while he throws paint on the canvases and caking debris from the floor into the layers of paint. The resulting works are a weird accumulated mix of materials like oil, spray paint, baby wipes, Trident wrappers, disc sanders, rolling paper, computer print outs, and Ricola wrappers. He’s quoted in the press release: “When I’m painting these, it feels like it’s either me or the canvas who’s coming out the victor.” The “Matador” title seems to refer to the paintings as some type of bull, or perhaps the other way around, as you can imagine him hurtling himself at some parts of the paintings where the paint drips as if from a wound.
But it’s not all completely random, as the general uniformness of the results shows. He first starts with repeated, compulsive studies on his iPad and in crayon. I think it’s really interesting to just batter away at an idea until it becomes the accumulation of all that action, but I also miss a bit how in his previous work the impulses manifested in works that were splattered with objects that seemed skimmed off the top of his brain, like gum ball machines, owls, bursts of grotesque flowers, and maybe even an appropriated Disney character. Still, I appreciate a painter continuing to evolve and experiment and wear everything down to technique. I just hope he does indeed come out victorious in his pummeling of these abstract ideas.
Eddie Martinez exhibits Matador at the Journal Gallery (106 North 1st Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through April 28.