Graduate Work Soars in University of Washington Shows

by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Parts of Kirby vacuum cleaner, early aircraft technology and bat wings lift Gustavo Martinez’ fantastic creature upward to emerge from the clay earth.

Over a period of years, we have watched Gustavo Martinez use ceramics to track his own life path from his roots in Mexico as he traveled north to Central California and his mixed media installations at San Jose State University, where metaphors for movement forward from an historic culture included railroad tracks and pots and potsherds.  Most recently, investigating symbols from native cultures throughout the Americas, Martinez has focused on animals — possibly taking off from the Quetzalcoatl story — that particularly embrace the concepts of rebirth, transformation, and flight. Finally, flight itself as a concept seems to have drawn the artist into the present, allowing for meditations on what our human journey is all about and why we want to fly to the heavens.

The wings of Martinez’ untitled creatures expand with their shadows.

In his graduate work at the University of Washington, the earlier pieces seemed to grow upward from the earth on spindly apple wood legs.  They embraced androgyny; a creation god with a pregnant belly, has large hands ready to work, but it is still hiding behind a MesoAmerican mask.  An awkward bird creature, full-figured with feminine contours but whose wings have yet to spread, drags its prodigious feathers behind.

In Euphoria, at the Henry Gallery, Gustavo Martinez allows his flying form to draw energy from the clay and minerals of the earth.

As his tenure in the graduate program draws to a close, Martinez’ final work truly breaks through to another level of confidence and takes off.  He revisits his love of line and the drawing he had worked into the surfaces of his ceramic sculpture, and takes it a step further into constructs of welded aluminum tubing, weaving a network of struts, ribs, veins and claw-like fingers into his hybrid creations.  In two of the three galleries where his last works are shown, these lacy forms cast a drama of shadows on the white walls, forming a continuum from the silvery aluminum to the space that dissolves into and beyond the walls.  The viewer will see references to bird wings, bat winds and dragon-fly wings. In my favorite piece, a Kirby vacuum cleaner part becomes a bird’s head that emerges from a ceramic ruff that contains three old style aircraft cylinders as might be situated around the propeller. There is alchemy working hand in hand with technology. The entire creature is rising from the earth, a well-worked, mighty mound of clay that is the artist’s source.

Martinez’ birdlike hybrid ceramic creature is still dragging its plumes.

Martinez supports his large sculpture and its relationship to line work with some interesting drawings in one of the student galleries.  The most informative is probably a giant, yet crude, green architectural form, rendered in expressive brushwork that appears to be a Tower of Babel.  Indeed, using whatever means and technology available, we are determined to get closer to the heavens. We envy and emulate the life forms that fly.

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