Profile and photos by Michael C. Butz
• Lives & Creates Schaumburg, Ill. • Degrees BFA in Painting from Cleveland Institute of Art; MA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Columbia College Chicago
Martinez E-B grew up in “105” — or, as outsiders may know it, Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. And ever since, the 35-year-old multidisciplinary artist has mined the cultural, social and political landscape of his upbringing to build his body of work.
Present-day surroundings and goings-on also inform his art. Take, for instance, “Farewells Toys Inc. Kid Youth,” a 2016 series of 32 oversized LEGO-like action figures that depict characters loosely based on those involved in the Tamir Rice tragedy but that also exist in similar police shootings of African-Americans across the country. Personas such as Kid Youth, Inept Guardian, Excuse Screamers and Elected Powers indict all players in these all-too-frequent killings, challenging viewers to examine their own roles.
“There’s a certain social responsibility that I push for in my work. … To me, being socially responsible means you have to challenge ideals. Things you put as powers, you have to challenge them,” he says. “Whether it’s visual art, a video, how you raise your family, the conversations you have with your lover, we have to challenge some of these things —– and in most of my work, I think I take that approach.”
Among his latest works, the “Philanthropic Patchwork” series may best accomplish that. Each acrylic-on-foam-wallcovering painting depicts bandages on brick walls to challenge the effectiveness and cyclical nature of many nonprofits’ grant-issuing process — especially as they pertain to serving communities like that in which he grew up.
“Oftentimes, you have an issue, you put money toward it. If it’s still an issue, let’s see if we can find more money to put toward it,” he explains. “I think I have to question our strategy. Going for a grant and getting the grant doesn’t exactly mean my problem is going to be fixed. It just doesn’t.”
“Insert Inclusion” shows a single black brick in an otherwise gold wall, a juxtaposition that questions what E-B calls nonprofits’ “inclusive moments” of diversity; “Well If It Worked Once” places a second, newer bandage next to an identical but older, more faded one, communicating failed past attempts; “Throw a Little More on It” shows one bandage on top of another as if to reinforce the approach to mending a problem; and “For the Kids” shows a colorful, more decorative — yet no more effective — bandage, suggesting deception of success.
The works are subtle in delivery but powerful in messaging. With all of his art, E-B hopes his message leads viewers to alter behaviors on a personal level to effect broader change.
“I can do stuff in my little space, and someone else can do stuff in their little space, and now we’re moving a community,” he says. “In time, we can expand to the point where we’re making changes. Those little spaces get bigger. I don’t want to say, ‘power to the individual,’ but those individual decisions go a long, long way.” CV
Lead image: Martinez E-B