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Boredom Transports Artist Pow Martinez Into a Ridiculous But Authentic World

by James Tana
Feb 8, 2023

(SPOT.ph) "Welcome to Paradise." It’s hard to miss this signboard found on one of artist Pow Martinez’s paintings for the upcoming Art Fair Philippines. An  enticing remark written together with images of a giant snake that wraps around a body, two crossed axes, and his usual long-haired figure of a man. Found at the bottom of it is an expensive-looking carpet where a headless body sits. The painting may look absurd and ironic until you realize that it’s supposed to be hilarious: that upon entry to paradise, one is faced with danger. This is "Utopia," an acrylic work on canvas and part of his latest series Delusions of Grandeur Woke Farm, which will soon be up at The Link in Makati City from February 17 to 19.

Pow Martinez Profile
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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 "Ako, I got bored with myself also minsan so walang ibang way kundi mag-carve ako ng sarili kong path doon sa ganitong world na I think genuine sa akin. I try to be genuine. I know it’s me," says Martinez in an interview with SPOT.ph.

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PHOTO: Christine  Chung

Pow Martinez on Humor, the Grotesque, and Use of Odd Colors 

In 2010, Martinez received the Ateneo Art Award for his solo exhibit 1 Billion Years (West Gallery). According to him, this marked a significant turn in his artistic career as he found his own visual expression that felt authentic for him. 

"I think ‘yun ‘yung breaking away sa iniisip ko kung ano ‘yung art. Doon na ako nag-break away sa academic art. ‘Yung first of set of works na brinake ko ‘yung sarili ko. Ito na ‘yung part na nag-impasto na ako. Tapos parang images na nakakatawa, pumunta na ako sa ridiculous, pumunta na ako sa odd side, parang oddball na," he explains.

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Pow Martinez Artwork
PHOTO BY Christine Chung

"Ando’n ‘yung feeling ng genuine artist. Ewan ko, gusto ko siguro mag-rebel sa mga nakikita kong boring for me [in life], [the] current state of what’s accepted."

Martinez shared that his influences include Philip Guston, Romeo Lee, and Manuel Ocampo. He recalled that he had to learn the formal approach to painting and its foundations before unlearning them as a student of visual communication at the University of the Philippines before shifting to painting at Kalayaan College, although he didn’t see purpose in finishing both courses.

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"Mas gusto kong pumunta sa tradition ng mga outsider. [For example,] there are comic book artists na hindi meant to be in a gallery. For me gusto ko i-breakdown ‘yung hierarchy," adds Martinez, who in the past had a stint as an animator for a broadcasting company

"[It’s] the unsophisticated realm of art na parang sa underground comics, sa mga horror movie. Gusto ko magpunta doon sa visceral, raw experience. Ano ba ‘yung image na maganda na totoo sa akin?

Admittedly a joker himself, Martinez—with the intent to tease—translates humor into paintings through his comical and grotesque characters, as well as the evident use of odd colors. 

"I know how to use obnoxious colors, ‘yung masakit talaga sa mata. Parang it’s deliberate din. Parang neon," referring to the bright, bold fluorescent colors employed in his paintings. He continues, "Minsan gusto ko pumunta sa risky path ng painting, ‘yun nga sa fluorescent colors that don’t work together, parang I force them [to work]. Parang sa film, forced perspective."

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Pow Martinez, who is represented by Silverlens, gets his paintings ready at the gallery's library. PHOTO: Christine Chung

"Art is an exchange of jokes" 

A joke is no longer a joke when it’s explained. The case is the same for Martinez, who isn’t fond of explaining the meaning behind his works. "[A]rt should stand on its own. It’s beyond you. I shouldn’t be there to explain it every time. It's [its] own existing entity." 

However, he acknowledges that appreciation and understanding of art may also take time. "For me, art, hindi naman siya realized immediately. Medyo vague din ‘yong pag-present ko ng ideas. Definitely, may narrative d’on na something na ayaw ko rin i-spoonfeed."

To paint ideas that bother him is to paint a world and reality that is his own, as shown in the previous solo presentations Clunker, (2022), Techno Utopian (2017), and Cyborg Scallops (2012). "It comes from me, internal world ko, through me," he states, referring to subjects he depicts in his works.

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Pow Martinez Painting at Silverlens
PHOTO BY Christine Chung

"Absurd images parang normal na lang. Parang gusto ko rin ‘yung stark, bleak images. I don’t take myself seriously. Dapat you can take a joke. Hindi ibig sabihin na parang nakakatawa ‘yung work ko, di ibig sabihin shallow ka or unsophisticated ka."

In Delusions of Grandeur Woke Farm, Martinez veers away from sentimentality in ideas he tackles and operates within the immediacy of production; a manifestation of how style and technique are a result of the intention of the artist. 

"More and more mas nagiging simplified ‘yung works ko, parang mas nagiging basic na parang unlike ‘yung before parang mas finished ‘yung work. [A]s I go along, mas nagiging simplified ‘yong work ko. Parang there’s no need to prolong [and] work on it for a year." 

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"Gusto ko ‘yung immediacy ng work ko na parang na-encase siya sa specific time. Ngayon kasi, nag-a-aacrylic ako. Gusto ko kasi ‘yong synthetic feels ng acrylic na parang gano’n na lang, not spending too much time," he says.

Pow Martinez Art at Silverlens
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
Pow Martinez Work at Silverlens
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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Unafraid to be made fun of and make fun of himself, Martinez has found his own visual language while remaining true to what he wants to paint. 

"Hindi ako nahihirapan maging humorous. Even if may tragedy na nangyayari, puwede ka pa rin matawa."  

Setting a humorous, comical, and even ironic tone or theme in any form of art—whether in literature, film, and so much more in visual arts—is a challenging task. It requires one to think differently, or view things abstractedly or in a different manner in order to produce something that is unexpected out of the ordinary; Martinez does humor intelligently. 

He mentions, "Gagawa ako ng art na kaya kong gawin every day, na kayo kong gawin for the rest of my life."

Also read:
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Art Fair Philippines 2023 is from February 17 to 19, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., at The Link, Parkway Drive, Ayala Center, Makati City. Tickets, which are available online, are P450. For more information, visit Art Fair Philippines' website.

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