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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Narsiso Martínez: Lived Experience


Activist Vicky Hamlin, a retired tradeswoman, union shop steward, and painter, shines the light — in her art and in this column — on the lives of working people and the world they live in.

Narsiso Martínez, born in 1977 near Oaxaca, Mexico, moved to Los Angeles when he was 21. He held a mix of jobs in manual labor, studying at LA City College and California State University, Long Beach, where he received his MFA in 2018. He has won prestigious awards, and exhibits nationally and internationally. He lives in Long Beach, CA.

If you were googling Narsiso Martínez, you could look under portraits, labor, farm workers, paintings, collage. For me, what takes this work above and beyond is that Martinez does not stay in any of these genre boxes. It takes a high level of sophistication to step outside of a singular comfort zone, and he clearly is way up there on the sophistication meter. I am drawn to his drawing technique, the skill in rendering gesture, the movement of his figures. But that alone doesn’t begin to tell his stories.



Masks. What about masks? His faces are largely covered, obviously because field workers have to protect themselves from sun, dust, poison, debris. But also from our gaze, our critical, judgey gaze. From INS, from cops, gaze can mean deportation. Hidden faces. Masks.


And the connections between work, life, identity? No neat algorithm here, but a web of real experience. Family near and far, co-workers with shared histories and needs. Community. Cooperation, understanding, language. So many languages, so many meanings.

"USA Product"



"Royal-ty" connects these strands in a lifetime of stories and images. Martínez’ lived experience, shared here, takes all these vibrant strands and weaves them together.




The physicality of his pieces, the boxes and bags that frame and define the portraits. Individuals and groups; relationships. The beauty in the swirling colors, the starkness of black and white. The fine, delicate line and the bold composition. “The Good Checker,” with its touching gaze, has a physicality of its own. The fruit and the boxes elevate this Checker’s story, even as we identify with her soulful plea, no embellishment needed.


Hands. How much can he/i/we love hands? Next to eyes they are the portals into the soul. In “Cara Cara,” they hide/protect the face. In “Extra Fancy,” they dance with delight. They writhe and point and hold. Strong and gentle, so much control in hands.





Martínez also has a series of stand-alone sculptural pieces made from produce boxes, like “Magic Harvest.” They have less emotional punch for me because I miss his drawing and painting interacting with the odd/interesting shapes of the paintings, but these are arresting. I can imagine the impact of coming up to one of them on a corner, a street kiosk or at a bus stop. We would all stop, look and learn!

Sophistication is not a question of learning one thing well in school. It’s a question of taking one thing outside the box (!!) and elevating it to a new way of thinking and experiencing. That’s what makes the work of Narsiso Martinez extraordinary. He takes us inside and outside of our previous understanding of I/We.


We become Us.