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Michael E. Martinez — Culture captured in art

Growing up surrounded by a creative family, Michael E. Martinez (Q-6) began to draw and paint. Inspired by the diverse cultures in New Mexico, Michael soon found other outlets for his art, such as t-shirt designs, posters, and customized shoes.
September 25, 2018
  • Michael E. Martinez
  • Michael E. Martinez
  • Michael E. Martinez
  • Michael E. Martinez
  • Michael E. Martinez
“I’ve never been one to isolate myself to do my art. I like to bring all my equipment into the living room, where I can be with my family. This way, I can enjoy the love of my family and at the same time I get to paint.”

Culture captured in art

Michael E. Martinez created this illustration, titled “Zia Warrior,” as a t-shirt design.

With pen and ink, artist Michael E. Martinez of Detonation Science and Technology (Q-6) takes to paper, beautifully crafting a bleached skull with a headdress inspired by the American Plains Indians. To give it a New Mexican theme, Michael uses the Zia symbol for the skull’s eyes and accents the smooth face and war bonnet with turquoise coloring. Emblazoned on the New Mexican flag, the Zia symbol originated with the Zia people, who regard the Zia as a sacred representation of the life-giving Sun.

“I come from a creative family,” Michael says. “When I was a kid, I would watch my grandpa make almost anything. My grandpa, he was like the Hispanic ‘MacGyver,’ he could make anything from what he had to help him. He found ways to make tools to work in his garden, to keep his truck going, anything like that.”

Michael tapped into his own creativity early, learning to express himself by drawing. As a teen, his brother Adam (who works at P-23, the Neutron Science & Technology group) and he would work on cars, such as lowriders.

“We just did not have the money back then to have someone do a custom paint job for the cars,” notes Michael,” so my brother and I usually wound up painting them ourselves. I worked on the designs and that led to trying my hand at illustration and painting.”

The Land of Enchantment for creative inspiration

Titled “Big Daddy O’ Gloom,” this painting by Michael E. Martinez serves as the Evergreen Zozobra Poster.

As is common with artists, Michael uses his past and present experiences to inspire his illustrations and paintings. His particular style and flair come from the rich cultures thriving in New Mexico. For example, in 2016 Michael created the official t-shirt design for Zozobra, a giant marionette effigy built and burned during the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe. In 2017, he illustrated Zozobra again, this time for the official Evergreen Zozobra Poster.

“New Mexico culture is more than inspiration to me,” Michael explains, “I’ve grown up as part of it. My whole family participates in the arts and crafts festivals, making artistic items to sell. At one time we even had a little shop in Española, where my family would sell their crafts.”

Michael has found that the bulk of his commissions fall into traditional categories, such as paintings of religious icons, Catholic symbolism and symbols personifying death. Despite these requests, Michael always looks for less-traveled roads to keep his art fresh and edgy.

“I try to do something different all the time,” Michael says. “So, even for like a holiday like Dia de los Muertos, which brings with it a lot of symbols, I try to introduce my own thoughts and give the illustrations a modern approach.”

Founding Michael Martinez Designs

Michael’s artwork uses a variety of approaches, from traditional acrylics to modern mixed media and computerized graphic design. He has received many awards for this work, including the Contemporary Hispanic Market First Time Exhibitor award. In 2016, Michael formed a design company to get his artwork more exposure.

“Before I decided to venture into the commercial world, I did paintings here and there, mostly for family and friends,” Michael recalls. “In 2013, I had back surgery, so for a while I wasn’t as active as I was before. Anyway, one day my kid came home after school saying he needed to do a drawing, so I helped him out. My wife Candie saw the drawing and asked why I didn’t paint more. She was the one who inspired me to get a design company going. I also started entering more art shows, and since then things have really taken off.”

Michael is currently a featured artist at Keep Contemporary Gallery on the Santa Fe Plaza. He has upcoming shows at the Española Valley Arts Festival (Sept. 29-28) and the Annual Dia de los Muertos Show (Oct. 27-Dec. 15). Michael also often works for charitable causes. For example, he created a t-shirt design for the Pueblo of Pojoaque Toy Run, contributes artwork to associations that raise money to help underprivileged children and works with Buffalo Thunder for the Food Depot of Santa, a non-profit organization.

Michael’s latest exploration is in different types of media. “I am working with new types of resins to give my paintings more dimension,” he says. “I like different metals, woods and other elements—I haven’t done a canvas painting in a while because I am exploring all these new elements. It’s all experiment, it’s all new and different, but it’s all me.”

Michael E. Martinez with a painting he titled “Blanca,” a rendition of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Michael E. Martinez works in Detonation Science and Technology (Q-6).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.