Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interview with Adrian Martinez @ Blue Café, Downingtown, PA

I sat down with Adrian Martinez, a classic oil painter, for lunch at Blue Café on a sunny but brisk day for lunch. We shared a bottle of Fruchs Gruner Veltliner and discussed food, art and how fortunate we both were. Heck, it’s 1:00 and we are having a bottle wine with lunch in a café. It’s like we are living the artist's dream. I chose a 1:00 mealtime to beat the lunch crowd at this little hidden gem in Downingtown and it looks better when you crack open that bottle of wine and finish it by 3:00.

Let me introduce Adrian; I have only known him personally for about 2 years. I have heard about him, read about him and finally over this 1 year period had the pleasure to put a show together with him at West Chester University. So if you think this is going to be a hard hitting interview your wrong. It’s my chance to have fun and ask some questions so you and I can get to know him better. If you think this is going to be an honest food review of Blue Café your wrong Adrian has a mural hanging in the back room so, while the food is indeed delicious, this too is a bit biased.

How did you get started making art?
As a little kid I loved going to art museums, and after years of admiring those wonderful works on the wall, I realized that I could do that. I couldn’t do it at that time but I knew I would be able to. I knew it as sure, as I knew my name.

Did you receive any formal art training?
I got a BFA at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore.  A CS at the St. Martin’s School of Art in London and a masters at Purdue University.

I know what your work is like…besides awesome. Can you describe your work in general for the readers? 
I paint many different subjects. You could say I paint all subjects. People often ask me if I do portraits, still lifes, and the answer is yes to all that. I paint my emotional response to the world around me and that could be people, places, and things, or all of the above. 

 What is your media? 
Primarily it is oil paint. I also do sculpture, etching, engravings, and silver point drawings. I love all those different mediums but I am basically an oil painter.
How do you choose your subject matter? 
On emotional response. I live, I get up in the morning, I walk around my house, walk around my neighborhood. It’s only a matter of time before I see something that affects me visually and it’s a way of capturing the things that are important in my life. I had a sense when I was a very little kid that time and things that I loved were just slipping through my hands. It was an anxious moment for me and I had to stop that. I guess you can do it by being a poet, or dancer, a writer, or an actor. The way I stop time and cherished my life was to make pictures.

You use a lot of amazing techniques in your work, and a lot of artists ask, "How the heck does he do that?" Tell me about some of your favorite techniques.
I think my technique has evolved over the decades. I started out being a very classically oriented alla prima painter. Historically speaking, that means a technique they used the last half of the 19th century. I have actually regressed. My painting technique has de-evolved from late 19th century classical realism back, and I am now somewhere between the 16th and 17th century. Titian would be the earliest and Velazquez would be the latest. So that means it is not all alla prima anymore. It’s many glazes, under drawings, under paintings, a lot of calculations having to do with transparencies. It’s a very different type of look than I had 30 years ago.

 I hate when a viewer asks, "is it done?" So I’m going to ask you “How do you decide when a work of art is done?"
I know when it’s done when I realize that I am working on the next painting. 

What was it like to paint murals for the White House?
I painted a number of murals for the White House. One of them, I painted in Honey Brook, and then I traveled to the White House and spent a week painting it on site.  I guess you would say that was the finishing touch. That was very intense. I am very sensitive to my surroundings when I am working and my life is spent entirely alone. The last week of doing the final touches surrounded by all the security people, promotion, the president, and first lady, took some adjusting on my part to be able to work under those conditions. The other mural I did was even larger. It was actually a pair of murals. Right now it is being installed in the Bush library in Texas. They had to be painted off site in a secret facility, which I can’t disclose where it is but, every morning I was taken from the Hay­­-Adams, a very luxurious hotel, directly across the park from the White House to this “facility,” and I did that for several weeks. It was one of the most dramatic and exciting times of my life, I must say.

Tell me about the mural in Blue Café. Rumor has it they feed you well.
They fed me very well, and it was such a delight. They stapled a large canvas on the wall. I asked Paul, the owner, what the hours were so I could come in after hours and work on it. He said “oh no, no you need to do it while we are working, business hours, people can come and watch you.” This was not as stressful as my situation at the White House, but it was almost. That actually turned out to be a delight. I got to know people. There was a group of people who would come in every day and sit and watch me work. I turned into performance art and I loved it and Paul and Patty would every so often bring me a new desert or a new experiment with their meal. From the moment I got in there I got my latte and my scone. The whole time I was eating and painting and eventually the mural got done. I had to go back to my studio and I was so lonely. There I was, all by myself, no eyes. So it was a delightful experience.

What inspires you? Really gets your creative juices pumping?
Passion, but I guess that’s obvious. Situations where I experience the generosity of life.

Do you have any habits or morning routines you do before going to the easel?
My studio is right behind my house. I start off with the most delicious part of my day, I have a cup of espresso. I walk into the studio and I spend at least 20 minutes, maybe more, mixing colors on my palette. That’s not necessary, I can do it in just a few minutes, but I need that 20 minutes to push around cadmium red, or make that smear of vermillion, and french ultramarine blue, and I am just looking at paint being smushed around on the surface. That is my meditative focus that gets me ready for the day.

In a portrait, Rembrandt reduces the modeling of clothes to the essentials, emphasizing the head and the hands. What tip do you have?
Don’t stop.

What are you eating right now? 
Polenta, which is normally a bland thing, a side dish. But I must say what they did here is exquisite. I think they used a lot of stock instead of water. Very, very rich and fish tacos, one of my favorites. It’s tilapia, a mild fish, wrapped in a sundried tomato tortilla. 
What is your favorite food?
My favorite food is venison tenderloin, seared on the outside with such a ferocious hot heat that it is actually burnt and caramelized and the inside is still barely warm with a Petruse 1964. That would be just fine, and a baguette. 

What does home mean to you?

Your proudest moment?
Standing next to the president and the first lady with a bank of at least 200 or more photographers snapping pictures. There were so many photographers and so many photographs it sounded like waves breaking on the shore. The crescendo, the rush of the snapping, would raise and lower like a tide and I realized every gesture that the president or first lady would make, they would raise their hand, or turn, and they’d start snapping, and I realized, oh my god, this is my one and only paparazzi moment and it was delicious. 

What was your mother right about?
I was her favorite.

Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about. What is it about?
It’s about waking up in the morning with this spectacular beauty beside you in bed. It’s about intimacy. It’s about people knowing who you are and about you knowing who they are.

We ended the casual conversation with each of us getting a crème brulee for dessert and I poured him the last bit of wine. That was to get him ready for a round of speed questions. 


Monday, February 14, 2011

A Picture is Worth 2011 Words

If you have ever wondered what is behind my paintings, I recommend you turn it over. On the back you will most likely see a silkscreened image of children. This began in 2004 when I started placing this on the back of all my paintings 24” by 24” or larger. The images of children are my kids: Briana, Mia, and Nicolas. Every year at the start of the year I take a photo and create a silkscreen of it.

One may ask, “why” or comment on how nostalgic it is, or both. I’ve always believed in not putting dates on my paintings because it was more about where I was in my life and capturing that moment of time by the accumulation of brush strokes. Putting a date on it inserted the world and what was happening outside my existence in the studio. I wanted to mark my paintings with something that was going on immediately around me. After all, I am painting my thoughts, my ideas, my brain-to-hand expressions. This is more personal than a 19th or 20th century date. The images give a glimpse into my private life that lives and breathes everyday around me.

There is also a humorous and metaphorical side to this invention. I read an article where Thomas Kincade was putting blood in his ink when he singed prints. So later on when they went to auction, or were found at a local garage sale, one could prove they were his because of the DNA in the ink. Truthfully, I never realized there was such a counterfeit market for Kincade’s prints; one just has to go on ebay to find a low priced original.

The meaning is on a story I heard about Master Japanese potters, which I will paraphrase here. The potters would mark their created vessels with the ridges of a shell. They would continuously, over their lifetime, press the shell into the wet clay of their work and leave an imprint of ridges, thus becoming their signature. Over time, the ridges would wear away and the shell would become smooth. By the end of their life, the clay piece would have no visible signature but the shape and form would be recognizable to the artist. A true master has no signature.

So how does this idyllic story fit with images of my kids on the back of paintings? My great goal would be that I create so many paintings in a year that the silk screen would become filled with ink and worn away. There would be no image on the back of the painting, thus capturing a year of intense work and inspiration. This has yet to happen.

So next time you hold one of my paintings, turn it over and see who is behind it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

$40 and Closer to Death

This weekend I bought a personal deep fryer at Walmart. I was so excited, my own personal cholesterol maker. I am lucky that last week was my birthday and my mom and Gram still send cards with cash in them. Isn’t there an unwritten rule, that you don’t send cash in the mail? Luckily, our postal worker must have another paying job so my birthday card arrived with cash intact.

Once home, I carefully unwrapped my perfect gift to myself. My mind wandered as I thought of all the things I could fry.  My mouth started to water and the excitement caused my heart to skip a beat. Maybe it was my brain telling it to exercise. What was the “crème de la crème”, was that I intended not only to fry your standard potatoes, but I was also going to fry pickles and yes the ultimate urban legend dessert, “the fried snickers bar.” This was going to be my “piéce de résistance.” It would be the end to a great meal.

Knowing I was going to end on a triple digit calorie buster, I wanted the meal to be healthy. So, we started off with two cheeses; a brie and a soft cheese with a nice stinky rind and some foie gras. We had to have the inside of the duck as the starter because we would have the outside of the duck as the entrée.  The cheeses were followed by a mushroom soup; something nice and earthy to make way for the wild game. Next, was the main course, which consisted of duck with an apple bourbon glaze accompanied by some red quinoa.  Quinoa is a grain that I spotted on the top shelf of the pasta aisle in Wegmans. It looked fancy and colorful in an earthy way. Plus, it was a grain so it had to be healthy. This all made a great base for the fried dessert. All the courses were helped down the gullet by a red wine from the Napa Valley, called the Prisoner. There wasn’t a bad part to the meal and it was served in gourmet portions to make it look really fancy and also so that we could save room for the snickers.

Ok so this is what you have to do to fry a Snickers bar. First you freeze the Snickers the night before. I used the bite size ones which worked well and held their shape. Next I coated the frozen bars with egg white then rolled them in dry funnel cake mix. I then mixed up the funnel cake batter to a nice thick consistency and dredged the Snickers bars through it. Making sure they were heavily coated, I plunged them into the hot oil. Those suckers browned up to a wonderful golden brown and floated to the top in less than 30 seconds. I crisped them up for another 30 seconds, took them out and placed them on a paper towel to soak up some of the calories. While still sizzling, I placed them next to scoops of Snickers ice cream and drizzled chocolate on top… Heavenly!