How I Became An Artist
Yes, it's been with me all my life—that "aesthetic" sense and sensibility. I approach everything I do as art. I have been an artist all my life!
I was born in Downtown Brooklyn a melting pot in those days. Each neighborhood had its own culture and set of rules. Above all, they each had a rhythm. It was an excellent place for a planetary citizen like myself to be born, live, and thrive. A smorgasbord of language, music, cuisine, and customs to enjoy, it was a priceless learning experience.
I was lucky enough to have a very gifted father, Enrique "Hank" Martinez. He was a master craftsman and inventor. Watching him work was instrumental in building my craftsmanship. I learned how to take wood and create furniture of museum quality, build a home from scratch, or take a dilapidated house and restore it to the way it was when constructed a hundred plus years ago.
My father's mind was vast. He had an in-depth knowledge of science, oceanography, and deep-sea diving. Leading him to work intensely on the patent for expansion joints used on the arm of deep diving suits built to sustain pressure at a thousand feet below sea level and also experiments in perpetual motion.
I absorbed by watching him and learned the many materials used in the creation of things; wood, lime, plaster, paint, shellac, stains, marble, tile, cement, etc. I mastered their use with hands-on experience in the old school way. More importantly, I grasped how to use mixtures of many different chemicals; oils, paints, and products. All the while, learning their reactions to different atmospheres, surfaces, and climate conditions in the workplace.
My father was very tough on me, but it taught me how to survive independently at a very young age. I acquired the desire to follow in pursuit of my beliefs, instincts, and intuitions with hand, heart, soul, and mind. Lead and dance to my drumbeat. My visions might not be within the times, but others will catch on if it's genuine, even if it takes thirty years or more. Perseverance and being stalwart in my convictions are paramount.
I always surrender to Higher Power when doing my paintings. Something that seems to be forgotten today, but never forgotten by many of the greatest painters that ever lived in the past.
Another significant influence on my artistry was my uncles Frank" Tito" Martinez and Angel Marrero. They were master guitarists, who taught me the wonderful world of music played in various styles. I saw creativity in show business, as well. They performed in a time when music, glamour, and talent were of great importance to an entertainer and their audience. A star should look like a star! They both performed alongside some of the world's great entertainers through the 1950s and 1970s. Being born into a family of artisans, artists, and musicians is a great inspiration for me, and I enjoy passing on the many lessons I've learned to the next generation.
When I reflect, I realize how my path to art began early in life. I can remember a remarkable day when I won a New York statewide art contest for my portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 5th grade. The prize enabled me to bring our entire class to Washington, D.C., to tour the capital and visit the Smithsonian and enjoy dinner. It was a big deal at the time for some kids from Brooklyn.
My son Henry would do the same years later for his school. He created paintings, one of a Dragon Dance during the Chinese New Year. All three of his paintings exhibited, one at the capital in Albany, one at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and one in the Chinese Museum's permanent collection in New York City.
The most influential teacher in my early development was my sixth-grade school teacher, Mr. Fred Silverman, and guest educator and pianist Marian McPartland. They both took my class to meet Leonard Bernstein and Beverly Sills in a rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera House and afterward for lunch at the NYC Downbeat Club to meet Buddy Rich. That was an inspiring day that has remained with me ever since.
The irony was that years later, I performed at the same clubs and festivals worldwide that Mr. Rich performed inand many, many others. John Zorn, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Max Roach, Benny Carter, George Russel, McCoy Tyner, Stan Getz, Richie Cole, Mel Torme, Sun Ra, and many more through the years.
Never doubt the positive impact of a great teacher and artistic school programs on the youth, especially for those without means. It can have a lasting effect on one's life for the betterment of humanity. Music and art are a ray of hope and sunshine to lift one's spirit when you are young and hungry.
Beauty is in the use and understanding of all colors in God's universe. Not in one color or two. It's in the mix where the hidden wonders of the world and the universe is open to the seekers.
The great Dali once said," If You Understand The Painting Before You Start It, Then You Might As Well Not Paint It!".
As the years went by, I would immerse myself in every kind of music and studied it intensely. I wanted to learn the strokes that gave each type of music, its character, language, and it's beat. I would study Classical, Rock, Jazz, Latin, Soul Music/ R&B, Funk, Arabic, African, Brazilian, Gregorian Chants, Doo Wop, Celtic, Jewish Cantors, Norwegian Whaling Songs, World Music, and found each fascinating. The music you can listen to for lifetimes! One can never truly understand the beauty found in all languages and people unless you are willing to surrender what you know to learn from another wholeheartedly.
I made it my mission to find teachers in each type of music to teach me the language. The funny thing being, I could never tell my teacher about the other teacher. Being that they believe it would interfere with my studies. As the years passed, I would be able to play in many languages and have here and abroad.
I also believe this truth in art. I could never commit myself to one style, or school, or teacher. I must discover on my own by trial and error setting the stage for a painting coming into being, as did Francis Bacon and countless others. A brilliant friend of mine once told me, "I love to attend lectures. I do not like being lectured too"!
My art must be a living organism filled with the spirit. I spent countless hours at museums or sitting in my gallery, absorbing the energy and knowledge of these great artists and their work. These hours filled my mind with challenges, studies of techniques, and showed the way to a life full of purpose and wonder.
I believe the spirit of art is in the pursuit of truth and beauty, and the embrace of the unknown! I must surrender to a higher power when I do my work. I feel I must commit myself wholeheartedly to my work. I need to work in solitude. Painting is a private matter between the canvas, universe, and I. Once I have committed to my art, there is no turning back. It consumes me completely.
I was a drummer and percussionist for twelve years with the Cecil Taylor Unit. I learned many, many lessons from the maestro Cecil Taylor. One of the most important ones was the pursuit, inventiveness, and execution of a structured musical piece in motion. Learning that one note will lead to another, and if you are keen, the composition played for two or more hours will be spontaneous and flawless if every member is on board for the journey. I carry these lessons as I stand in front of a blank canvas. It begins with the first stroke and a dive into the unknown. Life experience does the rest. It is my sanctuary, where I connect and find peace and magic! A union between you and the Universe.
I had the opportunity to play with Stan Getz. I had to meet him the night before at a gig in a Jazz club located on 5th Ave and Central Park in New York City. The only thing Stan said to me was, "André, "I don't care if you play just one note all night long! Just make it the right one!". I also apply this concept to my paintings. Always and forever!
Over time, I developed techniques and theories that would help me develop a system. I find it essential to think and solve things on your own. I conquer an overwhelming task by dividing it into smaller parts and see it to completion. Being clairvoyant and seeing things completed before you start a project. I learned when to stop if I hit a roadblock and come back the next day refreshed and get the project done.
It frightens me to think that we now live in a world that believes itself to be brilliant. Yet, at the flick of a switch or cutting of a cord, the world will be thrown into chaos. Present-day, we are witnessing our liberties and privacy vanishing by the minute. It is my underlying belief and hopes that in the long run, art, music, poetry, and the Arts will give life purpose to those who have lost their soul and hope in this world.
An artist should be true to himself. It is not the degree received that makes an artist, but the degree to which you are willing to sacrifice everything to be you! True belief in every stroke you take, without doubt, is when you know you have arrived as an artist.
Last but not least, there is love. Love is not easy; it takes perseverance and commitment to never give up on a sacred vow and to stay in pursuit through the good and hard times. We sometimes forget each moment is priceless and that we are here for a short time. Be grateful for what you have and use it for the betterment of the world. There will always be those who want to rob your soul and your spirit. However, where there is darkness, you must create and shine light upon it for it to disappear forever!
The great Balthus was once asked for his bio before his major retrospective in his later years, He answered, "An artist very few know. Now may we look at the paintings!"
André Martinez Reed