The unflinching Indigenous artwork of Robert Martinez

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Robert Martinez has experienced a whirlwind year.

SAGE Gallery in Sheridan integrated his artwork in “Creative Indigenous Collective: A Accumulating Exhibition,” from June 8-July 17. His a single-person present at the Brinton Museum in Significant Horn opened July 10 and proceeds via Sept. 5. His month-extensive residency at Outrageous Horse Memorial in the Black Hills finished July 30.

On Aug. 2, he headed into a five-day residency at the Plains Indian Museum at Buffalo Invoice Centre of the West in Cody. The gig, which he has had the last two decades, features time and house for him  to paint and converse with museum goers. Into the drop, he will be in group displays throughout the West.

The Riverton native will take it all in with a grin and a giggle. Even when he spends a thirty day period in a motel without air conditioning.

Martinez is embracing 2021 with its non-stop calendar of activities and displays, workshops and outreach. Final calendar year the pandemic shut down the typical summertime time of reveals and artwork venues: a doing the job artist’s bread and butter. At any time adaptable, Martinez didn’t hold out for COVID-19 to go absent. As a substitute, the 44 calendar year outdated acquired to navigate social media and Zoom classes, and ongoing to forge ahead with his unique artwork.

‘I get a good deal of questions’

Like other Northern Arapaho youth growing up on the Wind River Reservation, Martinez in all probability wasn’t positive what possibilities would open up to him . After attending St. Stephens Indian School — after a Catholic mission faculty, now operated by the Arapaho tribe with funding from Wyoming and the Bureau of Indian Instruction — Martinez graduated from Riverton Substantial School in 1994. A teacher, Brendon Weaver, nudged him toward a significant art profession.

Artist Robert Martinez. (Connie Wieneke)

“Mr. Weaver utilized for scholarships in my identify,” he claimed. “I obtained four total rides. I was stunned.”

The 17 yr outdated chose Rocky Mountain Faculty of Art & Style and design in Denver “because it was away from my loved ones, but however near.” He rapidly-tracked the courses in three decades and arrived back again to the reservation in 1997 to get started Martinez Style and design & Artwork.

But he immediately learned being a full-time artist was not practical.

“It’s a fantasy that any individual will locate you and put you in a gallery and you will make heaps of money,” he explained.

Soon after he marketed his current human body of function to good friends and spouse and children, “which weren’t lots of,” he remembers, he had to get a career. For a number of a long time he did construction to assist his relatives, but finally turned to education and learning and plan management for the Northern Arapaho and a Fremont County university district. His forte: functioning with at-risk youth on the reservation, aiding them to get a leg up on the 21st century.

When people careers supported his relatives for a decade, Martinez in no way stopped drawing or wielding his airbrush to layer on paint.  Though however functioning for Fremont County, he was employed to paint several murals featuring Arapaho leaders in hallways and in a gymnasium.

Since giving up his day work, Martinez has garnered awards and kudos as his inventive profile rose. His wife, graphic artist Veronica Martinez, joined in the household-centered company in 2003 and introduced her native Mexican imagery to the layout enterprise and for purchasers, like Wind River Resort & Casino.

Robert Martinez gained the 2019 Governor’s Arts Award for visual art. Also a receiver of a Wyoming Arts Council visual arts fellowship, his paintings and re-envisioned ledger artwork have been among the those people featured in a 2018-19 biennial exhibit, “Land and Human body,” at the College of Wyoming Artwork Museum.

“4 Arapaho Leaders,” 1 of his signature ledger paintings, was bought in 2015 by the Smithsonian Museum for its permanent selection. A facsimile of an 1885 Arapaho Census Ledger presents the backdrop for this artwork and data the tally of indigenous people today on the reservation: 883. The Arapahos now amount additional than 10,000.

That motif — the ledger paper, outdated map or document — has turn out to be 1 of Martinez’s signatures. “I desired to use the qualifications,” he explained.

The technique references historic ledger artwork. After the slaughter of bison and the removing of tribes to reservations, Plains Indians like the Northern Arapaho resorted to utilized ledger paper to report or commemorate an event, these types of as a hunt or struggle, according to art historians. It was much more file than artwork. The paper was obtainable and low-priced, compared with the no-lengthier-obtainable buffalo hides or linen canvas.

“I think an artist evolves,” Martinez said, “pushes the boundaries.”

Barbara McNab, curator of exhibitions at the Brinton Museum, noted that Martinez surely has. “It’s a quite contemporary perspective by a Northern Arapaho,” she said of his art. “The function is highly effective. He has an strange colour palette.”

Hatter, by Robert Martinez, is part of a summer season 2021 solo exhibition at the Brinton Museum in Significant Horn. (Courtesy)

Non-native artists typically present a romanticized picture of Indigenous peoples, Martinez stated, depicting them as out-of-date and with out a potential. In a phrase, useless. 

Martinez requires a distinct tack and provides the viewpoint of a present day Northern Arapaho. For him, this indicates pairing clashing shades, like bright yellow with a pulsing blue, or a deep purple with brick pink. By overlaying his very reasonable portraits with these vivid colors, Martinez wants to problem the prevailing photograph available in galleries and museums.  

“Even (photographer) Edward Curtis jazzed them up,” he said, referring to the legendary sepia-toned images. These kinds of photographs typically feature a stoic or sad Indian hunting off into a pale earlier. Martinez takes issue with that position of look at, choosing dazzling acrylics and oils for his larger-than-lifetime portraits.

“Some men and women feel Indians and they imagine teepees, feathers and horses,” Martinez stated. Alternatively he provides up loved ones, hip-hop artists, rocket riders, roller-skaters, Military troopers, casino operators, girls boxers, philosophers, mobile phone addicts and Captain Native American.

He’s psyched about community artwork commissions he has obtained, he said, which give an prospect to share this a lot more nuanced eyesight of Indigenous American lifestyle. This incorporates a person from Montana State College. He is painting two 9’ by 9’ murals, each individual showcasing a solid contemporary Indigenous American woman. When at Nuts Horse Memorial he was working up drawings: one particular of an engineering student. It portrays a assured youthful lady, a roll of drawings tucked below her white shirted arms, a tricky hat protected to her head, eyes that do not change away from the future.

“If you are looking at a painting of a man or woman and they are searching back again at you,” Martinez stated, “there’s some conversation there.”

To get people’s attention, he wears fascinating hats. It is hard to overlook him: extensive black hair curls down his again, a tidy beard graces his decreased experience, brown eyes obstacle. There is that comfortable voice that makes you pay attention. Right here is a person firmly embedded in Wyoming, with a blended heritage of Arapaho, Mexican, Spanish and Scotch-Irish.

“I really don’t genuinely seem native,” Martinez explained. “I’ve received the beaded hat, the lengthy hair. I am type of pudgy, really mild skin. I get a large amount of thoughts. Are you the artist? Are you Native American? Most of the community is so conditioned by stereotypes (of Indians), as a result of Hollywood and the media.”

His pretty modern art has no place for so-termed passionate images that harken back again to some “good aged days.” And it’s men and women he is most interested in, not landscapes, even though an occasional deer or raven wanders into perspective.

Bridging cultures

Even as museums and collectors purchase his work, Martinez has not put aside his commitment to give back to the local community. His art also seeks to develop interaction and appreciation among non-Natives and Indigenous cultures.

To that stop, Martinez has been concerned with Wyoming’s move towards including Native American perspectives in the state’s mandated core curriculum. Buffalo Bill’s Indigenous Training Outreach Expert Heather Bender highlighted him in one particular of the teacher talks for this extra inclusive method.

Robert Martinez discusses his operate at the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. (Connie Wieneke)

“His speak was termed ‘Adjusting Expectations,’” Bender mentioned. “That’s him in a nutshell. He lets you see that Indigenous folks are aspect of the in this article and now. He understands the great importance of giving voice and owning agency, specially for on your own. He was really very good at communicating with lecturers.”

Advocating for Native People in america has been a central portion of Martinez’s lifestyle. In 2012 he co-founded the Northern Arapaho Artist Society with Ron Howard, Bruce Cook, and Eugene Ridgebear, with guidance from First Peoples Fund. He also encouraged the Wyoming Arts Council to offer you Native Arts Fellowships, the initially of which have been awarded this yr.

When you stroll into a Martinez exhibit anticipating to see an additional elegy to the passing of Native Americans, you are likely to be let down. These are not dirges for a lifeless folks, not reduce-outs or stereotypes. He asks you to glimpse into their deep eyes, to let them glance into yours.

“It’s like elevating your hand in a place and indicating ‘I am in this article,’” McNab claimed.

In the movie made by the Plains Indian Museum as portion of Wyoming’s Education For All initiative, Martinez summed it up: “My hope is we find a far better understanding of each and every other. Experience totally free to access out.”

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