Big Mood: A Conversation with Mauro C Martinez
Art history is often the story of creative documents of the times, capturing consequential occasions and cultural or government icons, but just often, scenes and circumstances that appear insignificant but turn out to be harbingers of a much bigger picture. This more subtle aspect of art-making often has strong societal value in work that freezes mundane moments for other future generations may perceive as momentous. The effort and concentration in rendering an image on canvas with paint can broaden the scope of the subject for a wider audience to observe, acknowledge and appreciate.
It goes without saying that the current times are providing an absolute mass of information and visuals that have a huge potential of becoming noteworthy. So we've been enjoying watching young artists developing ways to introduce them within their work, sourcing their inspiration online, fully absorbed in the Internet culture. And one of those artists is Texas-based Mauro C. Martinez who has been exploring the human condition by observing and capturing our relationship with technology that both connects us globally and dissociates us from the actual reality. With a focus on our increasingly digital society, he is successfully utilizing metaphor, irony, and dark humor to reveal and critique our affair with contemporary imagery, regardless of how insignificant or mindless it might seem.
With a major UK debut coming up with Unit London, we've got in touch with Mauro and dissected his practice, the body of work he's gonna be showing, and the drive that keeps pushing him forward.
Sasha Bogojev: How did you come up with the title Big Mood?
Mauro C. Martinez: The title, like the work, comes directly from Internet culture and is meant to convey a universally relatable feeling or thing.
There seem to be a couple of different styles in the series. Could you break them down?
I’ve always had a hard time working on a tidy series or in a single “style” for a long period of time. During a 2018 virtual studio visit with artist Brad Troemel, I spoke to him about this specifically because I didn’t think a gallery would take me seriously because I was all over the place. Brad was super encouraging and basically told me to just do my thing, which I did. Now the “series” I work on are all open-ended and rely heavily on the source image/subject itself to dictate medium and technique.
The sensitive content series is probably my most notable at this point. These are a sort of simultaneous critique of the increasingly problematic nature of the world around us, as well as our decreased threshold for tolerance. I use an airbrush to paint the backgrounds of these and silkscreen for the text.
The cursed images are a bit more straightforward as oil paintings, but each image can vary so much in the subject and look that it always makes for an exciting challenge to a painter.
The cursed emojis are the newest series I’ve started. Of the two I’ve done, one is an oil painting and the other was made using aerosol and airbrush. Since I only just started them there’s still a lot to discover about my approach and intentions, but I’m excited to watch them unfold.
How would you describe the connecting element among all those works?
They all converge around the subject of documentation. In the end, I see my role as an artist is to document the time.
Can you tell us a bit more about the idea behind the Sensitive Content series, and how much did it evolve from the original concept?
The Sensitive Content series is about the viewer and it’s about our increasingly nuanced relationship with images. There was a really unique opportunity to almost coax engagement from the viewers when they encounter these images on the phone. Their natural first instinct is to tap the image to “reveal” what’s hidden, which of course never happens. The images I use range from memes to peepees and the responses, from playful to furious. Unit has even gotten emails from people begging them to “fix” their posts.
What attracts you to using elements of app graphics and interfaces, as well as referencing websites, memes, and icons of Internet culture?
The ethos of meme makers and Internet culture is, for me, the antidote to the problems I experienced with painting and vice versa. The marriage of the two, as contradictory as it seemed in the beginning, formed the basis for my path forward.
From your experience, how do people react to seeing such elements in essentially classic oil paintings?
With a lot of smiles and a lot of laughter :) It’s my favorite thing.
What about People with Paintings series? What's your motivation behind those and how do you construct them?
I never thought my art would end up in a gallery-like Unit London, so basically what I started to do was take images of people at galleries from Instagram and replace the “art” with memes. It was originally just my way of seeing my work in this gallery context.
Did you take sharing these works on Instagram into account when making them and how do you feel about going “meta” with your concepts?
Hmm, maybe 50/50. Again, it really depends on the image. The Sensitive content series is 100% made with Instagram in mind. My smaller studies are more about learning and exploration. The Meta stuff is really fun for me because it’s another way to subvert expectations. So much around us falls into the abyss of irony and absurdity and I want my paintings to reflect that — even if they have to undergo the same conditions to do so.
Were any of the works made with the London show in mind?
Not in terms of subject matter, but it was a great opportunity to really play with scale. Unit London is a very dynamic looking space and I think the non-static nature of the work is going to lend itself very well to it.
How does it feel to be having a major solo presentation so far from home, especially at this moment in time?
I honestly can’t even begin to articulate how crazy everything in my life seems to have lined up around this single moment. I got picked up by Unit just a few days before celebrating my 10th year free from heroin addiction. My 34th birthday will be during the show. I’m listed in a roster of artists whose talent far exceeds my own. I’m a happy guy.
Big Mood will be on view at Unit London from September 2—29, 2020