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Spacing Out with Mars-1

Mario Martinez has been blowing minds as Mars-1 for a long time, from creating painting deep, spacey landscapes to envisioning otherworldly characters that he turns into toys with the help of his friends at STRANGEco.

With the money he saved from a paper route as a pre-teen, Martinez bought an airbrush gun and began developing his skills as a graffiti artist in Fresno, CA. "What I think is funny, and probably more common these days," he says, "is that I learned how to render with a spray can before I learned how to paint with a brush."

After honing his skills in that arena, Mars-1 attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, where he learned to combine his earlier street techniques with controlled, classical training. He has since developed a style that addresses the dichotomy between science and self-expression; avoiding the pitfalls of contemporary trends, he opts to channel a higher level of consciousness, one strengthened by his intense imagination and attention to detail.

Amidst mad preparation for his first solo show in New York, Aerodynamics for Psychonauts (which ran March 31–April 28, 2007 at the Jonathan Levine Gallery), Martinez explained his creative process from conception to completion.

XLR8R: How did you benefit from art school?

Mario Martinez: My art is in an unreal or surreal style. The San Francisco Academy of Art trained us in a classical style, which gave my "made up" imagery deeper dimensions and an understanding of what something may look like in an unerthly environment,as viewed through human eyes.

Your work is constantly compared to science fiction.  Is that accurate?

I do have interest in science fiction, but my interests lie heavily in “UFOlogy,” theoretical physics, meditation, and the abstract nature of reality. Since a lot of these subjects inspire a lot of sci-fi, I believe it’s fair to compare my work to the sci-fi realm of the spectrum.

How much planning do you do before you start a piece?

I mostly just flip through my sketch book for elements to fire up some inspiration, or maybe start with splashing some paint down to see what ideas it may stir up. I try to keep the process free and open to allow for chance changes and happy accidents, and to let some of the subconscious mind surface.  After this point,  things tend to slow down, with more tedious rendering taking place.

How do you know when it’s done?

I feel it’s important to evolve and to keep a flow of new ideas streaming in, being careful not to rely on past ideas.  All the while, you need to keep improving in order to adapt to future situations.  Hopefully, this will keep your work moving in a forward direction.  Working in this way makes it easy to know when the piece is done–it simply tells me when it is complete.  After projecting so much energy into the piece,  it’s as if it says, “Enough already. I am finished, dude!” 

What is your goal when you are starting a piece?

I consider all my work to be connected in some way.  I would have to say I try to bring my “thought-forms” into our collective reality, and to contribute something positive back, no matter how small it may be.  In this way, I show gratitude for all the amazing inspirations others have shared with us on multiple levels–some of them subtle, almost invisible, yet they affect us every day. It’s sometimes easy to forget how others before us changed our reality and how, after we are all long gone, we may affect the realities of others after us. I hope that was not too much of a stretch.

What do you do when you feel uninspired?

I take it as a sign it’s probably a good time to get out of the studio,  go outside, read a book, go for a walk with the dogs, or sit in a cafe drawing in my sketch book.  Or maybe it’s time to go visit a friend or a fellow artist’s workspace. Maybe it’s time to discover new music I have never heard before; something with a lot of atmosphere helps.  Every time I watch the film Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky, it leaves me in a very creative mood.   Mostly, I  just try to change my surroundings. Too much stress can really lock up your creativity.

How did you first get into toys?

Well, the problem started as a child with pretty typical toys, like Star Wars, Transformers, Tron, and GI Joe. I think for a lot of kids at a young age, these toys really capture the imagination.  For a lot of creative people, toys like this tend to affect them in a deeper, heavier way.  Some things never change–the toys stay the same, we just get bigger.  So, it’s no surprise that now I am very fortunate to be able to create toys of my own. 

What do you listen to while you work?

AFX, Bola, Caravan, Clear Light, Country Joe & The Fish, Egg, The End, Growing Concern, High Tide, The Misunderstood, The Nice, Ratatat, Soft Machine, The Stooges, Syd Barrett, Television, Thomas Fehlmann, Vanilla Fudge, Tomorrow, Murcof, and on until the break of dawn...

What’s your favorite work of art?

If I have to go with just one, it would be “Temptation of St. Anthony” by Salvador Dali.

What bums you out?

People who see themselves as victims in every situation, instead of just fucking doing something about it to make it better.  They would rather just put invisible roadblocks or obstacles in their way.  There are people out there with real problems who have very positive attitudes and don’t see themselves as victims. Then you’ve got your negative, jealous bastards (always nice to throw a few of them in). On that note, I can’t remember where I heard this one, but I will never forget it: “Don’t go away mad, just go away.” [Mötley Crüe, perhaps? – Ed.]

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