Born in Los Angeles, and based in New York city, Luis Martin began his journey in the art museums of LA where he worked as a teen. Moving to NYC at the age of 19, he continued to work at cultural institutions before attending art school. His artistic career flourished through self-initiated projects that aimed to create visibility and access to his art practice and that of other artists. He has exhibited nationally and internally around the world. Most recently in Merida, Mexico where he had a solo show of collages created during his stay.
About his work, he says, "My small works on paper are amplified by my robust studio practice that takes on a multi-disciplinary approach. I combine the themes at the center of my visual work with other projects that include a podcast, and a live studio session series on social media. My work stems from a deep creative and spiritual inquiry, which plays out with my restless passionate nature, akin to the NYC hustle. I created the term “The Art Engineer” for my thesis project in art school, which granted me creative license to unapologetically explore my role as an artist from a place of agency and leadership that extends from the studio outward."
Your collages are so rich and dense with imagery and texture. Where do you source your materials? What inspired you to work in collage?
Collage was a gift from my grandmother. She used to bring European magazines from the posh convalescent home where she worked as a janitor. She would clip pages from the magazines and tape them around the house, especially next to the bathroom mirror. She would emulate the looks and styles in the magazines and even had a collection of men she thought were “sexy”. This gave me the freedom to follow suit. I instantly started to tear the magazines to create collages that reflected my life, not unlike my grandmother’s collection. Today, I still have a whole wall in my studio covered with images that move me, and it keeps me connected to my grandmother.
Since then, things are always jumping out at me! I am always looking and find awe in the world around me. As a natural hoarder, I am a collector, so I enjoy being surrounded by images, books, objects, and music that inspire me and this always plays out in my work, sometimes on levels I am not even aware of. I always tell other artists ,“If you stay inspired, you don’t need to get inspired.” I live by that.
Where did you study art? How did this experience impact you as an artist?
My education started young. From elementary to high school, I had the privilege of having some great educators who went out of their way to encourage me to lean into my creativity and educate myself. When I stated working at MOCA in LA as a teen intern, I approached it very much as part of my eduction and, above all, an initiation into a life of creative inquiry. Before attending the Fine Arts program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, I had worked at several museums, participated in after school programs, and had traveled, all of which were integral to my development as an artist. Today, I continue to frame and “justify” my curiosity as an educational tool that enhances everything I do. From taking a day to walk the city, to traveling across the world to taste new foods, there is a lot to learn and that is the ultimate invitation.
I love the details in your work that reference traditional Mexican culture. Can you talk a bit about this element of your work?
Collage has given me a powerful vehicle to explore my Mexican heritage unlike any other. In my creative practice, I get to make connections between the visual legacy of Mesoamerica and the current visual vernacular. A lot of identity is formed my unbalanced histories, mass media, and political agendas. My work is a space where I can rematriate myself and reconcile the weight of my American identity on my own terms, to arrive at my truth, without the sting or pain of the national narrative. As an artist, I get to write my own story in my own syntax as the protagonist.
Along with being a working artist, you also curate and have a podcast called Studio Confessions. Can you tell us about these other avenues of your creative life and how they feed into your practice as an artist?
For me, it is not enough to share, sell, and exhibit my work. I have a genuine desire to hold the door and bring others with me. I know what it is like to be on the other side, to be an outsider and feel completely disconnected. Studio Confession is a way to celebrate and champion the artist I admire. I want to highlight that there are artists in our neighborhoods and across the country doing important work, artists you might never meet if you only look to museums and galleries for cultural dialog.
The podcast, curatorial projects, along with my YouTube channel, are all invitations to activate conversation and community. This invitation gives me an opportunity to show up and share my own personal journey. As an indigenous, Chicanx, queer, dyslexic, left-handed collage artist, I know there are others out there who, while they may not fit all of my idiosyncrasy, will relate to the constant feeling of being the “other”, and that is something I want to nullify. There is no other, it is just us, as people and artists.
I understand you were raised in L.A., and now live in Brooklyn. When did you make this move across the country? How did this experience affect you and your outlook?
I moved to NYC when I was 19 years old. Staying in LA was not an option for me. After a series of earthquakes, race riots, and family melodramas, I realized I needed a less toxic environment to flourish as a human being and as an artist. I am probably the only person who moved to New York to Zen out. When I was 13, I had won an art contest that brought me and my parent to New York as the grand prize. The moment I breathed in the brisk NYC winter air, the world instantly seemed to open up . After high school, I bought a one-way ticket and never looked back.
Doing so has taught me more lessons that I can share in one breathe, but ultimately it has taught me that wherever you go, there you are. I did not have to go to NYC to college, or even to meet the man I would marry, but I believe life has a way of making those things work out. I did have to work on myself, my mindset, to arrive at a place of agency instead of holding on to a victimized narrative. This lesson has empowered me and given me unlimited freedom.