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Re-Spiriting the Void:
The Latest Paintings of Oscar Luis Martínez

By Egberto Almenas, PhD

At an age when most common folks have settled in with the unanswerable questions about our human fate, Oscar Luis Martínez renews the probe with a livelier volubility. What do we make out of the dreams that emerge from the abyssal depths of our minds? How can we entrust ourselves at decoding the resurgent mysteries with which our ever elusive reality assaults us? For decades, Martínez’ pictorial grapple with these existential riddles has gained force by an exponential polarity. He has not rutted in vain into the self-styled idiom that once earned him a place in what the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno dubbed as intrahistory, or the day-to-day happenings muted by the official accounts of a forged tradition. Real tradition, to secure its survival, must strive for change and development as an integral whole; the steeper the leap forward, the stronger the roots that must maintain it. More than ever before, this proposition attains a singular breath in Martinez’s latest series of paintings.

A grammar forever scarce at bridging the gap between our thoughts and the new mysteries that new realities breed has not hindered his search. Martínez frames instead his own expression in a spacetime, as he adequately names it, which beguiles the indivisible matrix locked in every thread of existence. Immortality in his canvases trickles from a decentralized universe of unlimited possibilities. The prospection that rises beneath the skin of his subjects, insistently versified as an idyllic homecoming, was already one of his most distinctive traits before he seasoned into a key player in the mural movement that branded most of Chicago’s heritage neighborhoods back in the early 1970s. “Even if one chooses not to go back home,” Martínez still professes, “the choice in itself is subject to the knowledge that there is a home to go back to.” With the grinding passage of exile this stronghold may risk shattering into a delusion and peter out on its true demise; yet in his case the metaphorical “sense of belonging and refuge” strives on how it accrues a vertical polar growth that is also liberating.

If it were not for the freedom this inverted relationship affords, it would seem as frivolous as the oft-misapprehended ideas that Théophile Gautier, the major and most heated exponent of Art for Art’s Sake, stoked up in early nineteenth-century France. To be more precise, his timely aesthetics held that a worldly belief in the spirit had to stand above all those advancements rushed by an age of science and technology running amok.

Art-for-artsakers would concede that there is of course a valid reason to deride artists if weighted on a scale of necessities in the backwoods. Otherwise, the bread for the spirit baked from the higher reaches of civilization has nourished us with no less urgency than all those “indigestible degrading drugs” with which the materialistic utilitarian champions progress. The Industrial Revolution and its corollary pauperism demonstrated that formal beauty, strictly speaking, is never a pure abstraction, but a very filling offset borne out of the infinite variation of forms created by artists at work from a bold self-referential autonomy. Fine art may emerge as an antithesis to tangible and instantaneous usefulness, though only from this stance it belies, as Martinez’s has charged, “a paradox created by science and religion… a void.”

The photographer Anna Shteynshleyger strikes upon the irony when she notes that even in the art world today the term “spirituality” has become largely taboo. Martínez’ lay mystical sense weds New Age skepticism by fleshing moreover the void with a Gautierian spirit. Viewers who partake in his séance find clues of a greater force in the indigenous symbols from his tropical birthplace. The emphatic significance of these conveyors—the independent reality of swirls and organic rhizomes caught in their transitional course—befall on their ultimate purpose: to interweave and fuse the elements into a cosmogonic oneness. The female figure writhes with the basking flora and plots against the deceptions that disengage our lives. Here procreation awakens in the Antillean-Daphne who flees from the inane expediency under which we lose our grip. Refreshed techniques render her recoiling toward the primal soil as she foliates anew and conspires with Nature and Memory.

In Metamorphosis of Reality, beauty re-spirits the void of our era and rejoices on the claim that the most cogent opposition to our destruction may dawn from our “imagined past, present and future.”

© Egberto Almenas 2010