West Nottingham Academy welcomes artist-in-residence Mitch Martinez
By Steven Hoffman
West Nottingham Academy (WNA) boasts a unique fine arts program that includes the Eric Fischl Artist-in-Residence Teaching Program, established in 2013 through the generosity of Eric Fischl, ’66, renowned artist and distinguished WNA alumnus.
Artist Mitch Martinez will present his outstanding body of oil paintings on custom-shaped panels in his upcoming show Naturalia, which debuts Monday, Feb. 15 in the Joseph R. and Paul W. Gates Gallery at West Nottingham Academy. Martinez, a California native, resides on campus, maintains a working studio, and teaches at the Academy in tandem with Fine Arts chair and veteran teacher Trish Kuhlman.
The experience Martinez brings to his students as a working professional artist is commendable and vast. Martinez comes from a family of educators—his mother was an elementary school teacher and his father was an art teacher. Martinez shared that his first motivation to become an artist was Walt Disney. As a child, he was very interested in animation, and remembers his first sculpture being of the Disney character Eeyore. He successfully fulfilled that childhood dream, completing an undergraduate degree in animation at Cal State of Fullerton, and working immediately as a scenic painter and sculptor on large-scale paintings for the likes of Universal Studios, as well as a professional toymaker for Disney and Gentle Giant Studios. Martinez has mastered designing maquettes, a staple of the animation industry, creating life-like sculptures that are used in drawings and film. Martinez also worked as a commericial painter of large-scale works for studios and museums. As a young artist, he would visit Comic Con fairs to shop for companies interested in professional sculpture for toymaking or film; some of his credits include names like Gloomcookie, SLG and Dark Horse Productions. “It was an incredible moment when I saw one of my prototype toy sculptures in the pages of a Tim Burton retrospective,” he said.
In working with students as a teacher at the Academy, Martinez says he wants to dispel the myth of the starving artist. When asked for advice, he tells his students to “Work hard, use your mind, and take a chance—when your work is judged, it is hard not to feel judged as a person and it is a tough path. You wrestle with your identity and your work, but you stick with it because you love it. The upside is having a career you are passionate about, but it can be torture—other times it feels like it’s not work at all.”
Martinez also encourages his students to stay connected, “…as finding the right connections will support and help you because they share your passion and artistic vision.”
Martinez earned a master’s degree in fine arts from the New York Academy of Art, where he also taught toymaking. Currently, he teaches at the New York Film Academy and the Long Island Academy of Fine Arts.
“In working for the studios, you do get to enjoy the craftsmanship of making something beautiful, but self-driven work allows me to develop my own language with my work—to be deliberate about it and take joy in the process.”
Martinez can also take joy in life outside of work: he moved to campus as a newlywed to wife, Shana, and as a new father to 10-month-old Maisie. The presence of their family (the first with a newborn in the history of the Artist-in-Residence program) on campus has not only benefitted the student artists, it has created an atmosphere of whimsy and enthusiasm. Martinez is often seen in the dining hall with his family not only covered in the day’s art supplies but in pureed baby food.
In the classroom, Martinez says he would like to be a catalyst for young people in the art world and encourage them in the understanding that while being a professional artist does require making a living with their skills, it is a small part of the greater practice of exploration and self-expression that is the true nature of being an artist and that this is available to anyone.
“I’d like to teach that lesson, to encourage them to keep that in their heart and keep making what they make, knowing that in making art, you get really comfortable with fear in exposing something close to the bone and wrestling with failure.”
For his upcoming show, Martinez has created a body of work inspired by forms in nature—trees, local landscapes, animals, and the sky—translated them into modern Baroque-style frame shapes --and allowed that structure to become the surface for a finished oil painting.
“My work is a combination of the objectifying qualities of a frame and the transcendant nature of a painted surface,” he said.
Mitch Martinez will debut Naturalia at his upcoming artist’s reception at the Joseph R. and Paul W. Gates Gallery on Monday, Feb. 15 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., a free event open to the public. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. by appointment. For more information, please email Trish Kuhlman at email@example.com, call 410-658-5556, or visit www.wna.org.