The eyes grab you. They’re a Martinez signature, a dead giveaway. It’s the DeKooning eye jaundiced through the kooky karma antics of Felix the Cat, Howard the Duck and Zippy the Pinhead. It is comic, but seriously comic. Sort of pagan Divine Comedy. It has a totemic power, DeKooning’s woman transformed into Pacific Northwest Thunderbird. It is the introspective gaze of the eye floating over the pyramid on the dollar bill under the slogan “Annuit Coeptis” or “He favors our undertaking.” It is an eye that is world-weary but not jaded, friendly but inscrutable, wide-eyed but hardly innocent, possibly catatonic yet seemingly possessed of X-ray vision. It’s an immunized eye that looks on without fear at the chaos surrounding it. The Eddie Martinez eye is the witness that is silent, but for now. It seems ready to speak. The eye is a door that swings both ways. The eye looks out to see in.

At times, when a sudden idea or image presents itself to the intellect, there is a distinct and sometimes painful sensation of luminosity produced in the eye, observable even in broad daylight. —Nikolai Tesla, The Action of the eye

Martinez draws lines as if against a current. Art, like electricity, encounters resistance from the universe. Ohms law of drawing: the creative current through a line between two points is directly proportional to the potential creative difference across the two points. You can almost see his drawings as aura renderings, sketches of the usually invisible. If the currents here are electrically motivated they still possess a liquid quality. Ink obeys gravity and follows the peculiar physics of image making. These works should sometimes be viewed in moonlight. The artists’ antennae move across the chaotic wavelength spectrum of the moment, synthesizing and transmitting to the limbs and fingers data gleaned from the apparently random electromagnetic feedback of the urban grid and its interference with the natural firmament, forcing it into a simulacrum of order that resembles the child’s attempts to impose order on his unfamiliar environment.

Zing! Today everybody says, “It is what it is.” But with representation it is what it isn’t. Always. In modernism there was considerable experiment in how isn’t it could be and still evoke is. This is where the magic eye comes in. The magic eye spots the gods moving around in forests and parks, reads the situation from how the birds fly and how the clouds are shaped. The magic eye reads the city, finding signs of order in the amorphia of ruins, the spoor of commerce, the dispersed signatures of vanished witnesses. The magic eye is I. Martinez loves found surfaces and the texture of urban motion the way Aaron Siskind did, finding beauty in the random, creation in decay. Consider: the studio as dump. In our inverted world ripped and worn is good. People pay extra for jeans that got beat up in the factory. Martinez’s studio is filled with good drawings in stepped on piles. There are black smudges everywhere, from the furniture to the artists face, the palette is here and there too, wherever color has landed . The floor is a collage of rubber gloves paper towels pieces cut out of paintings. The process isn’t pretty but in the end it’s beautiful. When you leave you might leave a trail of footprints down the hall. And it’s perfect. The drawings and paintings aren’t distressed in the fashion sense, but they are treated with a democratic sense of nivellement. Not in the sense of abasing art as much as saying, ‘hey, it’s all good.’ They are experienced.

This work is about color and what it means. Black is the glue and the gloom that frames the joy; it’s the night, the coal, the oil. White is black’s foil, the oxygen in the room that’s always pushing a little smoke around. The visible spectrum’s notes, chords and scales are the code, the bebop riot that’s acting out responses to questions that will come around eventually, like the stars that appear behind closed eyes when you press your eyeballs for answers.

Martinez isn’t afraid to make abstract expressionist paintings or cubist paintings or whatever. Movements and styles don’t have a sell by date. As long as artists can genuinely expand on a movement (I think groove is actually a better word) its completely valid. Dada and surrealism are as relevant today as ever, whatever they’re called. Eddie Martinez isn’t snowed by the notion of progress in art, as 99% of artists are. What makes his art really modern or contemporary is that it’s a powerful reflection of this moment, it vibrates with the rhythm of our microsecond saturated, overdubbed, post-logical era. This is an era that has outlasted art movements and hidden beauty away where the salesmen can’t readily find it. This is a moment where every artist is fighting a sketchbook war, informed and sustained by secret muses, against historians wired into suicide vests working for international banks. The artists might be making money, but they know it’s money with secret codes set to go off when least expected. Each picture is the encounter of a highly sentient, aesthetically attuned man with an environment that has evolved without a great deal of consideration toward providing for the needs, comforts and sensibilities of such a man.

Martinez’s artistic practice seems to be a sort of instinctive shamanic negotiation on the part of human nature with the absurd yet unavoidable constructs of monstrous unconsciousness. This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. This is your brain on drugs at war with a 6% interest mortgage in the LaGuardia flight path. This is Hamlet’s brain contemplating Horatio’s skull on caffeine vibrating in tune with the lightbulbs at 60 cycles per second listening to Lee Perry while mystery jets spray contrails over Brooklyn to the rumble of the J train. It’s all about man and nature and what comes after.

When writing about Brooklyn-based artist Eddie Martinez, critics frequently attribute his bold palette and cartoon-like rotating cast of characters to his origins in graffiti culture. Perhaps influenced by the language of aliases and codes that is an inherent part of underground art, Martinez’s fans manifest an intense desire to decipher his compositions by proffering theories about the meaning behind his early clowns, skulls, and figures with wide staring eyes.1 It was with some surprise, then, that these fans received the artist’s transition away from figuration to a largely abstract idiom around 2013.

Martinez explains the change this way: “I was so f*cking sick of looking at figures. I felt trapped and pinned down.”2 And again: “I changed from making figuration ... because I didn’t feel connected to it. Because I was making an expected product.”3 Yet when asked recently about the tension that exists for him between abstraction and figuration, he replied that there really isn’t any: “My goal is to try not to think but to act and react and I could be in this state with either an abstract work or a figurative work,” he asserts. “It’s just that figuration at that time was becoming too much of a formula for me.”4 Taking him at his word, this essay, and the exhibition Eddie Martinez: Studio Wall, asks that we think about Martinez’s work not as a product or result to decode, but rather, as a process or approach to observe and inhabit. Understood in this sense, the artist’s subject matter becomes relatively immaterial in contrast to the paramount importance of the media and materials he employs; furthermore, what assumes centrality within his larger oeuvre is the practice of drawing.

Martinez says he always knew drawing would play an important role in his life because, from childhood, it was the only thing he could do well. As he moved around the coastal United States with his parents, drawing remained his constant even as he abandoned art school after only a year, realizing that the strictures of formal education were not for him. Notably, Martinez worked almost entirely in drawing before taking up the brush some ten years ago.5 It is not uncommon for painters to be prolific drawers; indeed, drawing is often the place where artists work out their ideas prior to taking the more drastic and unforgiving step of applying paint to canvas. For Martinez, however, drawing has never been a subsidiary or preliminary activity but an enterprise that fuels his entire creative output, providing the steady hum that grounds his work and life in general.

Drawing, in Martinez’s case, is not confined to the studio. It pervades nearly every moment of his waking life as he carries pen and paper with him on the subway, to the doctor’s office, to restaurants, and to other work and leisure events. When I interviewed him for this text, Martinez drew the entire time using a stack of Post-its he found on my desk, sometimes scribbling abstract shapes, other times directly responding to postcards and printouts in my office. While this might have seemed off-putting to some, I knew what to expect, and enjoyed our conversation about his process interspersed with his reactions to the visual material I had assembled around me. “Drawing makes me a better conversationalist,” explained Martinez who, notably, is also an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. “It opens things up for me and hones things in a way that I wouldn’t be able to access without it. Drawing is like a meditation.”6

In other words, drawing is a kind of life strategy for Martinez that allows him to remain present in (and to) the world around him. This give-and-take dynamic extends into the afterlife of the drawings, and specifically into the “drawing wall” that he maintains in his Brooklyn studio wherein sketches ranging in size, shape, and material—many of them created outside his workspace—are switched on and off the wall in continuous rotation. Ushered into the life of the studio, these small sketches inform Martinez’s large drawings, paintings, and sculptures, sometimes physically entering another work to become buried amid the paint, at other times remain sovereign and intact. Frequently, Martinez reworks the sketches so that when he returns the drawings to the wall they read as distinct compositions, bearing traces of the old even as they introduce new observations. In this way, the drawings provide a living catalogue of the artist’s creative process—one that is open, responsive, and always changing.

This openness is not confined to Martinez’s method; it also manifests itself in the compositions that he creates via his preferred materials like marker, crayon, color pencil, and his beloved Sharpie.7 Indeed, if there is a consistency to Martinez’s choice of “subject,” I would argue that it is located within the conversational aspects of his forms and figures—what one might refer to as an aesthetic of encounter or approach—where divergent motifs gesture towards one another over distances and flat planes. Consider Untitled (2016) [PL. 11], in which a loosely-drawn, inky figure extends an appendage in the direction of a bright orange shape that lies slinky-like on the horizon; or Untitled (2016) [PL. 21] wherein a dense, bust-like form executed in opaque, black enamel paint confronts a similarly curvilinear albeit open pinwheel drawn in red marker. There is a kind of unexpected empathy implicit in these encounters that is nowhere so palpable as in Untitled (c. 2011–17) [PL. 30], a Sharpie drawing in which a faceless foreground figure reaches an outsized hand towards a snowman-like tower of wobbly circles. This is a poignant, humanistic vision of self-extension towards another.

Executed with a simple black line on white paper, this image recalls the ink drawings that Philip Guston, one of Martinez’s acknowledged heroes, made with the poet Clark Coolidge in the early 1970s. In this collaboration, the notion of extension, of gesturing across boundaries, is paramount in the work titled Untitled (The Drawing) (1975) [FIG. 1] in which two fingers reach down from the sky to trace a horizon line. “A line in the silence of else, stopless. Surface, edgeless,” reads Coolidge’s text. When I saw this drawing recentlyin Venice, I immediately thought of Martinez. A line that silently acknowledges another which it simultaneously cannot be: this is the condition that Martinez depicts whether in a busy image [PL. 00] in which figures stumble upon each other across a pale blue ground or, in the starker Untitled (2016) [PL. 28] which juxtaposes two reciprocal halves: one open, one closed; one dark, one light; one full, one empty. Gesture and encounter without absorption or resolution. Through this confrontation we can understand Martinez’s penchant for the picture within the picture, a motif that he describes as a “way of bringing together the outside and inside worlds,” or, by extension, of acknowledging multiple contexts and vantage points.8 Martinez similarly courts multiplicity by working and reworking specific arrangements in alternative colors and materials between drawings, from drawing to painting, and back again. Moreover, in an ongoing collective drawing session that he initiated with the artist Brian Belott, he has expanded this process to include other people. Of these “Draw Jams” Martinez has observed: “The part of it where it’s cool to draw on and over people’s drawings has been very inspirational ... Something about the community aspect of it is sobering. Nothing is finished. The drawings are just a result of the collaborative process.”9

Martinez notes that his goal for the past couple of years has been “to make a large painting feel like a drawing.”10 “I don’t have to achieve anything in the drawings,” he explains, “and with some luck I will feel that way about the paintings at some point.”11 Recently, Martinez has begun to assist this process in concrete ways. For instance, he will often draw over images of paintings on his iPad as a means of injecting the kind of fluidity he experiences while drawing; in one body of work, he enlarged small drawings via screen-printing and transferred them to canvases. He notes that the drawing element is typically strong enough that he doesn’t have to add much paint even though it takes trust and discipline to forego the impasto technique for the lightness that drawing embodies. He observes: “Their [drawing and painting’s] relationship is based in a back and forth a lot like a human relationship; drawing is medicine for me.”12 Eddie Martinez: Studio Wall aims to highlight this human element by putting the alliance between his different media on view. Hung unframed atop and amid a sea of sketches (some of which the artist periodically substitutes out over the course of the exhibition), the larger drawings and paintings manifest a vulnerability and incompletion that, reinforcing the looser sketches’ own sensitivity to context, gets at the core of what, for Martinez, drawing is or can be. It is an openness that is difficult to sustain, as evidenced by the inclusion of a single framed drawing at the exhibition’s entrance. Speaking about his process, Martinez acknowledges the transformation that happens when a drawing leaves the studio. “Studio drawings ... are just that. They’re more like excerpts from the studio; they’re more like artifacts from the floor ... and I think that ... when you frame them ... they really become like fossils.”13 This crystallization is not necessarily bad; rather, it is the nature of things, once made, to assume definitive form.14 But if visualizing openness and non-achievement is ultimately untenable, it is still worth a try.

  1. Martinez comments on this phenomenon in an interview from 2008: “People look at the eyes in my paintings and wonder why they’re that big. People ask if they’re on mushrooms or if they’re scared or if they’re my eyes. They aren’t any of those things. I don’t have to make specific choices or explain things. I don’t have to make things clear; it’s just what I want it to be.” Eddie Martinez, “15 for ‘09: Eddie Martinez,” interview by David Coggins, Interview Magazine, November 29, 2008.
  2. Courtney Willis Blair, “Studio Visit: Artist Eddie Martinez,” Forbes, March 3, 2016.
  3. Martinez, “Eddie Martinez,” interview by Joseph Hart, October 26, 2014, Deep Color, produced by Joseph Hart, podcast, 55:42.
  4. Martinez, conversation with the author, May 25, 2017.
  5. Martinez, conversation with the author, May 25, 2017.
  6. Ibid.
  7. On the centrality of the Sharpie to Martinez’s work, see interview with Katherine Bernhardt in this volume, 16.
  8. Martinez, email to the author, July 19, 2017.
  9. Martinez, interview with Bernhardt, 17–18.
  10. Martinez, “Barry McGee × Eddie Martinez,” interview with Barry McGee and Rachel Small, Interview Magazine, September 12, 2014.
  11. Martinez, email to the author, November 1, 2016.
  12. Martinez, email to the author, November 1, 2016.
  13. Martinez, “Eddie Martinez: Island I | Timothy Taylor Gallery | 13 Oct–8 Nov 2014,” October 21, 2014, published by Timothy Taylor Gallery, accessed July 25, 2017.
  14. Indeed, without elaborating, Martinez notes that he finds the change enacted by the framing process to be exciting. See also his interview with Bernhardt, 18–19.

Alison Gingeras: Our shared passion, or even obsession, with the Cobra movement has brought us together in many ways. I have this persistent observation that most great artists need to have a romantic, intellectual, even necrophilic relationship with art history that is compelling to their practice. Plus, I always love hearing about what artists see when they look at historical work that is meaningful to them.

What do you find in the work of the Cobra artists that is compelling to you now? Which artists or iconography of that group do you return to most?

Eddie Martinez: Yes. It’s visual cannibalism. It’s still the rebellion, and the embrace of the child’s hand. I relate deeply to their practice of experimentation and their haphazard stream of consciousness approach, as well as their ability to embrace themselves, and to enjoy success on different levels. I am drawn by just how weird and charismatic some of them were as “figures.” I’m not sure it’s an iconography as much as it’s a constant abandonment of structure while being structured.

More and more, I’m looking at Alechinsky, Appel and Jorn. I love Corneille and Constant as well.

AG: For the show we recently collaborated on I was really impressed by the way you were able to make a new painting in response to the Alechinsky black and white painting on view that you playfully titled Alechinsky Sandwich that both completely resonated with the formal look of the Alechinsky work but brought a breath of fresh air and a whole new set of present day concerns to your own work.

EM: Thank you, but generally an assignment or even idea of an assignment makes me completely useless; it makes me feel like I’m in school, and I really sucked at school. But yes, you’re right: the drawings and practice of drawing have always been a constant thing and have existed on their own laurels. It’s the easiest, fastest way for me to chronicle my life. I don’t draw in my studio, I draw at home and traveling, so it’s really a biographical, journalistic tool.

Then they make their way into the painting studio and feed the paintings, sometimes they get glued directly to the paintings. I carry them around and poach different marks and moves. Some of them go straight on to my “drawing wall” which at time houses up to 500 drawings all mashed up on and over each other.

AG: I am bringing up these examples to try to get you to say more about your process and perhaps how it both relates and differs to the Cobra paradigm. Can you talk about the role that spontaneous drawing plays in your work? The phenomenal wall that we installed with the Cobra ceramics seems like a major coda within your work. Like a mothership!

EM: I suppose a major difference between my work and that of some Cobra artists is that there is a lack of direct political influence in what I do. It does seep into my work—though it’s certainly more in the background and not generally narrative.

The work really became a visual vehicle for the politics of some of the Cobra artists, and the writings and graphic works as well as just the whole birth of the group.

What I relate to most in my own work and process is the speed and raw unfiltered mark making. The complete indulgence of the child’s mark making, and just letting it “happen.”

AG: Let’s talk about this new body of work you are preparing for your upcoming show. I am interested in the jump in scale from the drawings to the paintings and I’d like to understand better how you compose these works. Each painting is autonomous—its own pictorial island—but at the same time they share a lot of common ground. The palette, the energy of the mark making, the use of black and the compositions... can you tell me about these? Can you talk about the role that silkscreen, paint, oil stick and such play in building up these compositions?

EM: This work is largely about the translation of small drawing to large painting. I’ve been working towards this for years, I feel like it’s really started to come to fruition here. For the past year I have been employing a new tool, silkscreen. I take the small drawings, blow them up and silkscreen the skeleton of them with black ink onto canvas, stretch them up and go from there. In the beginning I was mostly working within the structure of the lines and using them more like coloring book pages, then I started to obliterate the line, some completely. I think I learned a lot during this period like how to keep the speed and spontaneity of the mark alive on a larger scale.

One super fun thing that came out of this is that I will continue to use the silk screening for the “stationery” paintings, I’m stoked for you to see these.

It’s as literal as it sounds...drawings made on stationery/letterhead then turned into big paintings; it’s a super goofy trick and really fun to make.

As far as palette, I never know what to think or say: the choices are always intuitive, not pre- meditated. I’m not sure how an artist can be expected to stick to a palette or consider it one’s own, seems unnatural to me.

AG: Does this body of work have a name?

EM: Pictorial Island! I like that. That makes sense. I definitely see paintings and the studio in general as a dumping ground, kinda like Fresh Kills in Staten Island.

AG: Since intuition plays a large role in your work— especially due to the kind of “automatic drawing” that animates so much of your practice—I like this mental image of Fresh Kills as a way of encapsulating your work. The blank pictorial surface, whether canvas or paper, becomes a dumping ground for your mind...a kind of liberating psychoanalytic activity for your artistic unconscious.

How has this “dumping ground” changed since you took a break from painting in 2013? You’ve talked about how it was really an important turning point for you to have a hiatus from the studio. It seems like the work has increasingly moved away from figuration.

EM: Well actually the move away from figuration started in 2010 when I was making a 30 foot painting with all figures, I got so burnt out and started putzing around making anything but a face.

Then I thought what I should do is to zoom in and sort of magnify the still life elements closer and closer until they lose their form and just become shapes.

I didn’t really fully start pushing the abstraction until 2012 though, and that actually preceded the studio break.

So after that I started to look at how I could bring the line and gesture of the figuration back into the work and see how it would meld with the bold shapes which is essentially where I’m at now.

AG: Are you tempted to decipher or psychologically read the more abstract works that you’ve been producing in a more narrative way? As an admirer of your work I guess it is always tempting to keep some sort of narrative thread going in how one digests your œuvre. Curious to hear your thoughts about this narrative or interpretive temptation.

EM: Actually, as the maker I try to keep myself outside of the narrative as much as I can or, at the least, I try not to walk people through it.

That’s like the difference between a Playboy and a Hustler magazine—you gotta leave something to the imagination.

AG: How about your curatorial practice? I have really enjoyed looking at the show’s you’ve organized and have especially appreciated different artists that you’ve brought to my attention, most recently Alice Makler who we included in the Cobra show. Do you have a show cooking up in the back of your mind? I always find that the artist’s own pantheon of whom they admire or how they put different artists together sheds a revealing light on their own work. The artist curated show is almost always some sort of veiled self portrait.

EM: That’s cool that you appreciate that; I feel like some curators just get annoyed when artists do that. Like it’s their territory.

But I agree, artists like artists because they are doing something they wish they could do or feel like if they made that type of work that’s what it would look like.

When we were in LA you said that you had always learned the most about artists from other artists. I heard that and it totally made sense.

A veiled self-portrait like a Woody Allen movie.

Katherine Bernhardt: What is it about drawing that you like that you can’t achieve through painting or sculpture?

Eddie Martinez: It’s my own “brain island.” I can escape into drawing and, while I’m there, I learn how to handle life off the island. It’s instant gratification, which is rewarding, and you don’t get a hangover or an upset stomach.

KB: Is drawing a way to loosen up before making a painting?

EM: Not for me personally, but I could imagine that might be the case for you. Is it?

KB: No, drawing for me is a completely different task that requires different materials and a distinct mindset. Drawing is usually smaller scale so I make it on a table not the floor or wall. In drawings, I usually use ink and watercolors.

What can you achieve through drawing that you cannot through painting?

EM: Drawing for me is a kind of necessity first and foremost. It’s a navigational tool and something you don’t need much in the way of supplies to do. Sharpie and paper gets it done. I’ve always drawn. I copied comics, logos, and other graphics when I was young. I failed miserably at copying The Simpsons when it came out. Also, drawing is a portable practice—speed without making a mess. There’s always more paper, until we don’t have trees, which could be soon. I feel like I only really started seeing your drawings out in the world a few years ago, is that accurate?

KB: It’s not true that I only started making drawings in the past couple years. I’ve been making drawings since I was little. I’ve always made drawings or works on paper.

EM: I meant that in your previous bodies of works, I never saw drawings as a major part, but I’m seeing them now. I’m not saying, “I don’t think that Katherine has ever made a drawing,” just that I see them as so present and relevant to your paintings these days.

KB: What are some of your favorite drawings?

EM: I was acutely obsessed with M.C. Escher when I was a kid. His drawings always blew my mind and are very magical stuff, but I think I was more impressed by the technical skill than the fantastic elements of the works. Anyone that mastered shading and crosshatching was amazing to me back then. Now, I would much prefer to own something like a Freddie Brice or a Ray Hamilton. I guess I went from liking more technically refined works to works by adults that look like they were made by children. More unselfconscious. One of my all-time favorite draftsmen is Derek Aylward; he taught me a lot about drawing. We have spent countless hours drawing together over the past two decades. What about you? What are some of your faves?

KB: Some of my favorite drawings include…well can it include any work on paper? Chris Ofili’s “afro head” portraits. I guess it could be any artist I like because they all make work on paper I think. Joe Bradley’s works on paper, and Matisse. I guess it depends on what you consider a drawing. Agnes Martin and José Luis Vargas’s works on paper… let me think… Alphachanneling’s work, Robert Longo’s wave and ocean drawings, Joyce Pensato’s cartoon drawings because of their energy. I think it’s more based on how artists I like handle the act of drawing as opposed to “a drawing.” What do you use to draw with?

EM: I prefer Sharpies. If I had a Shar-Pei I would name him Sharpie. I just love the dense black line; it comes out so smooth. When you first use one, it has a sharp point but eventually it gets rounded out and generally at that point the ink is lessened and it’s more of a gray, which is good for shading. You can also intentionally make them more brush-like with sandpaper. I like the way drawings become ghosts of themselves once you white them out, but the black line still comes through.

KB: Do you ever use unusual materials like mustard or chocolate sauce?

EM: Haha, no, our friend Brian [Belott] has that covered!

KB: Since you mention Brian, I know that part of your show includes what you call “Draw Jams.” Can you tell me about how those got started?

EM: They’re super freestyle—mostly drawing, some jamming. People bring supplies, throw them on the table, and folks get to work. I grew up doing them in high school really, but it wasn’t anything formal, just my close friends and I sitting around drawing in black books. That particular practice definitely came out of graffiti history. Back when the NYC subway was covered in graffiti, they would meet up, exchange books, and draw in each other’s. So we just copied that idea in high school. Sometime around 2005, Brian invited me to what he called a draw jam and it was really similar to what I used to do in high school. The way these Draw Jams will be structured at The Drawing Center is similar to the way Brian and I used to do them.

KB: Are there any other precedents for the draw jam?

EM: I think maybe the Surrealists…? Dada, too. They had something called the Exquisite Corpse those guys would sit around doing. One guy would start a drawing then fold it over and they’d pass it around and everyone would add to it and then they’d open it at the end. That’s pretty much the spirit of it. Many of the New York ones, like what we will be doing at The Drawing Center, have been orchestrated by Brian Belott at people’s studios, galleries, etc. He provides the stuff and everyone shows up and gets to work. You never really know what is a “finished drawing” until someone says, “I can’t do anything more with this,” and then we just tack it up on the wall.

KB: How have the draw jams influenced you?

EM: The part of it where it’s cool to draw on and over people’s drawings has been very inspirational. I don’t take particular care with materials in my own work, but this practice just solidifies the impermanence of it all—especially crappy paper and Crayola markers. It’s all this action: a bunch of people sitting around and at the end of the night you have all these drawings with different peoples’ hands on it. It could be a well-known person or not; it doesn't matter. It takes away the preciousness of it (and the artspeak—it’s not “graphite,” it’s a fucking pencil). They’re just drawings—not works on paper, just drawings. Something about the community aspect of it is sobering. Nothing is finished. The drawings are just a result of the collaborative process.

Whether he’s painting or drawing heads, skulls, decks of cards, tennis balls, flowers in vases, people gathered at a table laden with food, or even a boxer knocked out cold, Eddie Martinez imbues traditional motifs with an urgency that reflects the world in which we live. And he conveys this level of intensity regarding people, places and things whether he’s using boisterous colors or stark black marks. Combining a palette mostly comprised of oils and acrylics with distinctive shapes and lines, the Brooklyn-based artist supercharges the sort of stuff you might find in a kitchen drawer or on a shelf in the basement or in a corner of the garage.

At times, Martinez resembles the director of a repertory company. Though they’re always somewhat altered, he deploys across his large canvases and small works on paper images he’s portrayed again and again. He knows his cast well. Add to this his habit of drawing incessantly. Consequently, when Martinez lays down colors, delineates lines, applies impasto-like passages and masks out sections, he’s able to work instinctively. And he harnesses formal properties to attain emotional impact. He’ll combine, for example, assertive reds, blues and yellows that are literally in-your-face or he’ll construct an elegiac picture from something that resembles white-out.

A few years ago, Martinez brought his art into the realm of abstraction. The nonrepresentational shapes evolved naturally from his familiar form language. But these days the artist has returned to portraitlike faces as well as the kind of flowers sold in shops, except that everything is actually generic. It matters, though, that you recognize what he’s depicted. This allows us to realize that Martinez is converting time-tested subjects like still lifes and heads with a contemporary vernacular. His ongoing series of Mandalas is a further case in point. When all is said and done, he takes the old and makes it new again.

Martinez had an unconventional path to becoming a fine artist. He was born in 1977 in Groton, Connecticut, where his father was stationed on the naval base. A few months later, the family moved back to Brooklyn. When his parents split up, he became a well-traveled kid. (Years later, the artist titled an exhibition Nomader, alluding to this period in his life.) All told, Martinez lived in several far-flung states, including California, Florida, Texas, and Massachusetts. He spent a year in San Francisco, and another three in San Diego. Eventually, he ended up outside Boston. At eleven, he was a skateboarder; later on, he thought he might become a basketball player.

During the early 1980s, he visited his first museum: the Museum of Natural History in New York. An amateur archeologist as a child, he was thrilled to see the dinosaurs there. Martinez has memories of doing two things in Sarasota, Florida: fishing off the pier and going a number of times to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Back then, the galleries were mostly filled with the eponymous family’s collection, which included scores of items from antiquity acquired during the 1920s directly from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; paintings attributed to distinguished Old Masters; impressive panels by Peter Paul Rubens; and bronze copies of some of the greatest statues ever carved, including the Laocoön and Michelangelo’s David. The little boy liked the Egyptian and Chinese miniatures.

During high school, Martinez decided to be an artist. Like numerous teenagers, he drew cartoons and comics. He was good at storyboarding. Lots of young adults draw cartoons and comics. It’s a popular pastime. Some modern artists who started out that way have even become painters of note. Take Claude Monet. Retrospectives of his work often feature in a first gallery the Impressionist’s impressive caricatures executed beginning when he was fifteen and signed O. Monet. Then, there’s the example of Otto Soglow who studied with John Sloan at the Art Students League along with his classmate Adolph Gottlieb, the future Abstract Expressionist. Esther Gottlieb, in an oral history she gave as late as 1981, was still referring to Soglow, who became famous for his Little King syndicated strip. Or consider Alexander Calder, particularly the drawings he sketched at the Ringling Brothers and the Barnum & Bailey circuses for the National Police Gazette.

In Boston, Martinez briefly attended art school. He found it too regimented. He preferred making graffiti, surely the contemporary equivalent of caricatures and comics. Doing this taught him to be quick and agile, to make stylish designs using bold colors. Whether you’re riding in a car or walking from the subway to Martinez’s current studio, you go past marked-up walls that are practically a neighborhood museum of graffiti art. As it is, Martinez uses a can of spray paint as if it were an exquisite stick of charcoal. In fact, he says he can control his lines better, making them thick or thin depending on how he presses the nozzle and angles the can.

In Beantown, where he was based for two years, Martinez was an art handler at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Years later, he recalled, “The job that will get you closest to the art world is being an art handler in an institution, gallery or shipping company. On a daily basis, you’re at least seeing paintings that would not normally be seen . . . and hearing the vocabulary to describe them.” Shortly before he left Massachusetts, he went to work at the Rose Art Museum on the campus of Brandeis University, in nearby Waltham. He’d heard that Barry McGee was about to have a solo show there. The fledgling artist wanted to meet the better-known painter, and they did indeed become friends. After McGee’s exhibition, he returned to New York, where he’d lived from 1999 to 2002. It was May 2004.

Martinez is a true autodidact. In an interview published in January 2016, he explained to Bill Powers that his initial paintings involved very basic themes: “I started with portraits and landscapes and still lifes, because I thought that’s what painting was supposed to be.”1 Because he didn’t stick it out in art school, he had to teach himself much about the craft of making art as he went along. In 2014, he told the selfsame Barry McGee, who was questioning him for Interview magazine:

I haven’t really known how to do anything that I start to do, besides drawing. I didn’t really know how to make oil paintings, and I didn’t know how to make sculpture. I guess I just looked at history for it and tried to figure out how I was going to do it. But that’s kind of how everything has really been for me. Not knowing how to do it and then just figuring out how to do it . . .2

Within two years of settling in New York, Martinez held a solo show at ZieherSmith, a gallery then located in Chelsea on West 25th Street. He exhibited, during the spring of 2006, paintings that featured a mélange of figures and animals crowded together. There were behatted characters with wide-open eyes wearing tall, wide-brimmed green hats who were cheek by jowl with parrots, cats and snakes who were just as wide- eyed and looked talkative. Potted flowers and a turreted tower were part of the scenery. Patterns—plaids, dots, a checkerboard—abounded.

From the get-go, Martinez’s drawings and paintings attracted attention. His debut in Chelsea garnered reviews in Art in America as well as Art Review. In AiA, David Coggins felt the paintings and drawings on view exemplified “joyous work” and described the emergent artist as an “intrepid draftsman.” He mentioned “incongruous landscapes full of vivid pattern and color.” As for the still lifes, Coggins wrote that Martinez was “reinvigorating” the genre.

In what he wrote for Art Review, Anthony Downey noted that the paintings emerged from drawings, and the subjects were “diverse and multicolored.” He admired the twentysomething artist’s “pictorial whimsy” expressed in a variety of scenes, including urban cityscapes.3

At thirty-one, Martinez was hip enough that Coggins garnered an assignment from Interview magazine for a brief Q&A timed to coincide with a solo show the artist was about to hold in Seoul, South Korea. A recent canvas depicted two figures, one looking like he could amble up to a bar in a Star Wars film and the other wearing a mask with polka dots that matches the sleeves of his companion. As up-to-the-minute as these characters were, they belonged to the time-hallowed tradition of double portraits. Asked by Coggins why his figures and animals had large eyes, Martinez replied, “It generates all kinds of emotions.” The artist, however, didn’t want to be more specific than that. “I’m not making these characters,” he told his interlocutor, “to illustrate a story.”4

By the time Martinez held his third solo show at ZieherSmith during the winter of 2010, his paintings, mixed-media drawings and drypoint prints were attracting coverage from a wider range of publications. Critic Roberta Smith reviewed the proceedings in the New York Times, and Claire Barliant, in Time Out. Among the dozen canvases was a pair of all-white pictures as well as two blackboardlike works which revealed colors beneath white, scratched-out scribbles. Another painting represented four seated figures and an empty chair at a poker table festooned with bottles, chips, cards, dice and other items. Harking back to canvases of comparable subjects by Georges de la Tour and Paul Cézanne, Martinez’s scene is an art historian’s delight. In yet another of his works, a full-length figure lies on its back emitting a speech balloon filled with a multitude of images, including Donald Duck, a blue heart and some drooping flowers that function like a painting within a painting.

In Time Out, Barliant referred to Martinez’s “virtuosity” and compared his art to “rebuses or maniacal maps to lost treasure.”5 Roberta Smith, in the New York Times, mentioned Martinez’s exuberance and cited his “exceptional gifts as a painter and draftsman.” Though she found that “incoherence and generic skill overtake some works,” she added, “he is better when he juggles more, not less.” Smith also noted the artist’s “evolving style.”6

Three years later, Martinez’s art took a leap in an unexpected direction. At the Journal Gallery in Brooklyn, he exhibited five 7-by-10-foot abstractions he referred to as the Matador series. They are variations on one another and are based on an earlier group. As the artist once put it, these works are “a study in making the same painting, but differently.”7 Another time, he recalled his modus operandi: “Pare it down as much as possible and have it just be about shape, color and composition.”8

In the New York Observer, Andrew Russeth wrote that Martinez “has made a name in the past few years creating, with ostensible effortlessness, messy yet sophisticated paintings that feature bug-eyed figures in craggy landscapes.”9 These latest works were anything but that. This time around, Martinez only used red, yellow, blue and black as well as collaged components, and floated the few large-scale biomorphic forms in ample amounts of bare canvas.

After the show closed, Martinez stopped painting for a while. That summer, which he spent on the North Shore of Long Island, he walked along the beach and collected all sorts of detritus. These items eventually made their way into tabletop sculptures and, after that, were enlarged and cast in bronze.

Martinez had needed a breather. When he began painting again, his abstractions were more gestural and much more complicated. They had less to do with genres familiar from art history, and more in common with work made by Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning during the mid to late forties. Biomorphic shapes, many of which are not outlined, overlap and nudge one another. Colors are sketchily applied; far from being tidy, a cascade of drips flows downward. One untitled canvas from 2014 that is 9 by 12 feet is executed in oil, enamel, acrylic, spray paint and collaged parts, including gum and cough drop wrappers, a computer printout, baby wipe and drawing.

Two years later, talking about similarly sized canvases, Martinez explained in Interview, “What I’ve been trying to do for a long time ... is to make a large painting feel like a drawing.”10 He realized this was partly a matter of transforming the hand movements he used to make works on paper into expansive arm movements. He achieved this goal in canvases featured in Salmon Eye, a show held at Mitchell-Innes & Nash early in 2016.

Martinez’s gestures are more sweeping, the groupings, looser; shapes are not filled-in uniformly, and white grounds are more prominent.

At a panel discussion held at Mitchell-Innes & Nash while Salmon Eye was on view, Martinez observed that he wanted his large canvases to radiate the same sense of immediacy as his drawings. Artist David Salle, who was sitting next to him, commented that this was difficult to pull off, but that, nevertheless, he felt that Martinez had succeeded. He added that he responded to both the “velocity” of the enlarged marks and how the surfaces had been articulated with a different sense of scale. For Salle, the canvases simultaneously expanded and contracted.11

No longer an emergent artist, Martinez was executing his paintings and works on paper with a new assuredness. He had no qualms about applying a variety of media when working on the same canvas. Besides acrylics and oils, he was making marks with Sharpies as well as spray paint. Sometimes, with a silk screen that enlarged a smaller drawing, he began a new picture. As far as he was now concerned, there were no rules.

At this moment in time, too, Martinez began to be invited to mount solo museum shows. For two of them—one held at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College in 2017 and a second at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in 2018—he generated impressive new series (and bronze sculptures). At the Davis, he exhibited a group of Mandala comprised of seven recent canvases that are 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Although they are a variant on Buddhist symbols, they are hardly serene. The segmented circular forms are so dynamic, they feel as if they are constantly in motion, a bit like wheels of fortune being spun endlessly. This occurs, in part, because Martinez used brash colors that, in some cases, he applied seemingly haphazardly. Though comparable images often hang on walls, some of these made viewers feel as if they were somewhere up above, looking down at these colorful arrangements.

The eight paintings Martinez sent to the Bronx are in a variety of sizes. As a group, they are designated White Outs. This refers to both the white liquid that countless secretaries once used when they made mistakes while typing, as well as what the world looks like during a dramatic snowstorm. To some extent, this series also alludes to Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), not to mention the five white panels Rauschenberg painted in 1951. The tabletop sculptures also on view had white patinas.

The White Outs balance aspects of abstraction and representation. Beneath the veneer of white, you can recognize a head here, a body there. The color highlights enliven the works considerably. As for Sand Lines, it’s divided in such a way that it resembles a diptych, even though it isn’t. And the part on the left looks like a fugitive from a Robert Ryman show. In her New York Times review, critic Martha Schwendener noted a “fascination with appearing and disappearing forms.”12

At the beginning of 2018, Martinez held a solo show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash’s two galleries, on the Upper East Side and in Chelsea. Smaller works and tabletop sculptures were displayed uptown, and larger paintings downtown. Meanwhile, the artist also had a concurrent show at the Drawing Center in SoHo, which featured scores and scores of works on paper displayed unframed on a wall that partially duplicated a studio installation.

The paintings on view on West 26th Street continue to balance aspects of abstraction with more representational imagery, some of which is familiar from Martinez’s earlier work. They were executed, in various combinations, from layers of acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint and collaged components. On some, Martinez has also silk-screened blow-ups from his drawings prior to his picking up any brushes, spatulas, cans or other implements. Martinez once again set himself the challenge of using the same sources for some canvases before going on to make them different from one another.

Martinez’s latest group of paintings, many executed during the lockdown of 2020, are works in which he practically takes stock of all he has thus far achieved in his art. They reveal, too, a new mastery of his skills and ideas. The themes are still rooted in tradition and art historical precedents, yet are expressed with a contemporary sensibility. As for representational imagery and abstract principles, that dialogue continues. Most works are in color, but a few are examples of White Outs and others are executed in black. To make these canvases, the artist used, on different paintings, oils, acrylics, spray paints, oil sticks, Sharpies and collage. The critical role that drawing has played for him can still be discerned.

Martinez has returned once again to an art dominated by people, places and things. Take the heads that he has rendered in black and white. They’re summarily depicted yet so familiar. Look again and you’ll notice that the artist is breaking the rules of composition. You could argue as well that the work is unfinished (it isn’t). And why do two chicken claws appear in the lower right corner?

In the context of so many colorful canvases, the White Outs stand out as exercises in looking as we peer to discern what has been portrayed. There are heads to decipher as well as things (flowers in a vase). Three people are seated at a table in their Sunday best. The woman has on a hat; the man is in shirtsleeves held together by cuff links. Check off two categories. They’re gathered with foodstuffs arranged like still lifes.

And then there are tables tilted as if they were being envisioned by Paul Cézanne. With their surfaces crowded with objects they are a cross between things and places. Viewers are attracted, too, by their vivid colors.

Looking at Martinez’s recent works calls to mind the opening lines of T. S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton.” In the first of his Four Quartets, the poet wrote: “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.”

Think about it. Eddie Martinez is making visual poetry.

  1. Bill Powers, “‘I Needed to Figure Out Something I Could Make Myself’: A Talk with Eddie Martinez,” Art News, January 25, 2016.
  2. Rachel Small and Barry McGee, “Barry McGee x Eddie Martinez,” Interview, September 12, 2014.
  3. Anthony Downey, “Debut: Eddie Martinez,” Art Review, June 21, 2006.
  4. David Coggins, “Eddie Martinez,” Interview, November 29, 2008.
  5. Claire Barliant, “Eddie Martinez,” Time Out New York, February 1, 2010.
  6. Roberta Smith, “Eddie Martinez,” New York Times, February 11, 2010.
  7. George Newall, “Eddie Martinez,” Apollo Magazine, April 11, 2013.
  8. Scott Indrisek, “Eddie Martinez Edges Toward Abstraction,” Artinfo, September 19, 2014.
  9. Andrew Russeth, “‘Eddie Martinez: Matador’ at the Journal Gallery,” Observer, April 16, 2013.
  10. Small and McGee, “Barry McGee x Eddie Martinez,” Interview.
  11. Eddie Martinez: Salmon Eye Panel,” February 23, 2016, Vimeo video, 57:00.
  12. Martha Schwendener, “Eddie Martinez,” New York Times, January 8, 2019.

Claire Gilman: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about your first drawing related memory.

Eddie Martinez: I remember that my mom—she doesn’t remember drawing—but I remember in the 80s she used to have a large newsprint pad that she would draw on, very 80s-appropriate, fantasy stuff like The Hobbit and fairies and unicorns and I would watch her do that. I was really intrigued by that. And then I got into comics and copying Ziggy and Garfield and, when, I got a little older, Calvin and Hobbes and The Simpsons and skateboarding and the graphics and, at about ten, I think, it was an intentional thing I would do.

CG: Was drawing still taking the form of copying at that point for you or were you drawing from your own imagination?

EM: I think it was copying and then still lifes. I remember being really serious about doing still lifes. Because I was really into MC Escher even at a young age. So, you know, like someone’s cigarette and an ashtray. Just drawing what was around and really trying to make it fleshy.

CG: When did it occur to you that you might want to make art as a career?

EM: High school. Junior year in high school when everyone starts talking about college. I was like I don’t know what to do, so…

CG: How did your relationship to drawing develop as your interest in art became more professional? When did you start painting?

EM: Again, junior year of high school. To be fair, at that time, I wasn’t making paintings. Everything was in my sketchbook but it would be painted. I would paint in the sketchbooks and use paint markers; the sketchbook was carried around like a bible. And I would flesh things out in there. I was only making legit paintings for assignments and stuff. Also, I don’t think I had access to those materials really, except for gifts that people would give me. That became my thing so Christmas or birthdays or anything like that I’d get sketchbooks and art supplies. A couple of years after high school, around 1997, I attempted to go to art school at a couple of places in Boston.

CG: So your transition from drawing to painting took place in a classroom context. And did you feel like that transition came naturally?

EM: It was natural but I think even then it was always drawing. Even if it was canvas, it was drawing with paint. It didn’t feel that different unless it was in a classroom setting trying to do what they wanted me to do. That didn’t work.

CG: What about the transition from figuration to abstraction. You said that you started working by copying, so your early work was necessarily figurative and there still is a figurative element to your work. When did that transition happen?

EM: 2010.

CG: So a long time later. Was that a conscious decision or a natural evolution? 

EM: Well it was a conscious decision because I wanted to make something abstract. I wanted to see what it would look like if I wasn’t painting these figures and flowerpots. What would it be that was coming out of me that wasn’t a blank canvas but that I was able to call a painting? I was heavily embedded in these figures and still-life paintings. That was what I was getting recognized for, so naturally I wanted to go against it because I needed to see what I could do and that I could do it. So in 2010, I started to make a conscious effort to move toward abstraction.

CG: And was that something that took place in your paintings rather than in your drawings? 

EM: Yes, at first. But I think probably simultaneously too. I mean once I started getting in the flow of making these paintings, I was making similar kinds of little drawings all the time as well.

CG: Do you think there is something about drawing that lends itself naturally to figuration in a way that’s different from painting? We think about drawing as coming from an originary impulse to copy or render the world, at least that's how you started. Do you have thoughts about that?

EM: I don’t know—drawing’s always been more comfortable for me, so, while I was trying to make these abstract paintings, I was making studies and working in that way. But also, if I just sat down to draw, it would probably be figures.

CG: Right. So here’s a question. What is it you feel you can achieve in drawing that’s different from what you achieve or experience when you’re making a painting?

EM: Okay. Well I think that’s a two-part answer. I think the figures and the representational objects spill out first because that’s what I was focused on when I was younger so that’s imprinted. Like I can do this because I can draw. But drawing for me is nothing and everything at the same time. It’s not an act of effort—a lot of painters do not draw, it makes them nervous, they hate drawing, it's a problem for them to draw. For me, it’s the opposite. Everything comes out of drawing; it’s the only way for me to really get things out and see what I'm interested in and what I'm thinking and talking about. I think the only way that painting matches that ease is once I'm in the groove of doing it. Thinking about a painting is—I don’t have to think about drawing in that way. I guess if I painted all the time and I carried around an easel and I was setting up a canvas right here… but just that mark, I mean the line [referring to a sketch he is currently composing on a sketchpad] and where that line could take me or where I could take the line. Or just letting it happen. You know I still feel very strongly connected to automatism and the surrealists and DADA exercises in drawing, exquisite corpse, and all that. It’s just thinking for me, it’s thinking with a utensil.

CG: It’s really wonderful to watch you draw because it feels like it's a space of absolute freedom for you; a space where there’s no division between you and what you’re producing. 

EM: That’s it. There is no division. With painting, it's easier to be distracted or concerned with thinking. I mean there are certainly times when I’m in the flow and I’m just painting. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. Drawing is my safe place, and I can access it at any time. I could be on a plane and get a pen. Even if it’s not an interesting drawing, it just gives me that space to process and filter. It does all of that for me.

CG: It’s interesting that it doesn’t really matter to you whether it’s an interesting drawing or not when you’re making it. Whereas, when you’re making a painting it’s more conscious—is this going somewhere…?

EM: Yeah there’s more involved and there’s more invested; I mean, the materials, the time, the themes, everything about it. And I don’t have to change to draw [Laughs]. Painting is more like a job.

CG: Don’t you think it also comes from this utensil that’s literally an extension of your hand?

EM: Absolutely.

CG: The physical pencil as a kind of limb. Is that ever the same with painting?

EM: If you’re lucky it is. If that’s where your strengths are. I mean that’s certainly how I would like it to be at a certain point in time. And there are moments of that, there are whole periods of that but… Obviously the best is when I’m not thinking, but eventually you have to make some kind of decision when making an oil painting or it’s just going to be mud.

CG: So when you’re drawing, are you thinking about what you’re drawing, or are you thinking about other things?

EM: When I’m drawing, I’m less likely to be thinking about what I’m drawing. When I’m painting I do prefer to be in a place where I’m not thinking about it, but I have to conjure that a little bit; sometimes I’ll just close my eyes, or get up really close to the painting so I can’t see what I’m doing to kind of recreate this ease, this casual quality, and this speed and impulse. I mean it’s all about speed really. So whatever I can do to make myself paint fast.

CG: So your goal with painting is to make them feel more like drawings.

EM: That’s been the goal for a pretty long time—fifteen years. And I don’t know that I stay true to that all the time, because I don’t want to be so strict with myself. But when I look at a painting and I feel like I made it on my couch—then that’s successful.

CG: Ok, let’s talk about the different kinds of drawings that you make. There are drawings that you make when you’re sitting around like now. Then there are drawings that you make more consciously, right? Are there also drawings that are preparatory for paintings?

EM: Yes, you basically just described it. I think the thing I would add is that it’s not all premeditated. I mean, I could see something in a sketch that I want to take and bring into a drawing that I’m thinking about as more of a preparatory drawing. I don’t know if there’s a black-and-white way that I do it. But sometimes I will make a drawing and think “this is going to be this” and I’ll make that drawing. But I don’t then do, say the Murakami treatment. I won’t do fifteen colored pencil drawings, five gouaches etc. It’s not a classic preparatory drawing. But even the preparatory drawing thing is fairly recent; the drawings are always independent. It is its own practice. And, for as long as I can remember, I have carried drawings around and looked at drawings while I’m painting.

In answer to your question, yes, there are different kinds of drawing. There are a few drawings—drawings of my dog Fran for instance—that are so delicately fleshed out with color where I used 100 different colored pencils, and, you know, that’s a different thing. But I didn’t sit down and say that I was going to make that drawing.  I just thought “oh this drawing of Fran is cool” and I’ve got a box of colored pencils and it just goes that way. There’s one drawing in particular I’m thinking of that is a very romantic drawing.

CG: Right. So it starts, and then you think to yourself, this is a drawing that requires this kind of treatment or that kind of care.

EM: Exactly. The drawing often dictates what it’s going to be. I’m very protective of my drawing practice. I’m very protective of it being whatever it needs to be at any point in time. That said, there’s definitely a lot that gets scrapped.

CG: So how do you make a decision about which drawings you think are worth saving and which ones you think aren’t? Because you have so many of them.

EM: It’s fairly instinctual. Sometimes at night I’ll just grab a sketchbook and say “okay let me go through here and see if there’s anything worth taking.” I’ll rip it out and bring it to the studio the next day. And then because there are so many papers next to my bed, and in my dresser, and everywhere I periodically go through them and I decide what makes the cut.

CG: Let’s talk about the experience of making these different kinds of drawings. What is it like to draw small versus to draw large, for instance, and what determines the scale?

EM: Drawing large is more similar to painting in that there’s a little more thought involved. It’s a little more annoying [laughter]. I think “okay here’s this big sheet of paper. What am I going to put on it?”

CG: So, it’s the intimidation of the size that you’re confronted with. As though the paper takes on a reality that maybe it doesn’t have when you’re working at a smaller scale.

EM: Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.

CG: Whereas when you’re working at a smaller scale the dominant thing is the pen, right? When you’re drawing, it’s all coming from the pen. The support is just there to receive what you’re drawing. But when you’re working at a larger scale you’re first confronted by the support, and then you need to fill it.

EM: Right.

CG: Do you consider your drawings personal?

EM: Yeah. They’re personal in the sense that everything I do becomes personal because of that daily thing. You know that’s the direct connection between drawing and painting. It’s just my life. Maybe there’s more pressure with painting, it’s a bigger scale, etc. but it’s still just a reflection of my daily existence. If it’s the marks maybe they’re aggressive marks when I’m stressed out, or if I’m feeling light, they’re really light or colorful or the colors are related to what Arthur [Eddie’s son] was wearing that morning. So yeah, it’s all personal in that way. And then there’s titling, titling is always really personal. And even when there’s a serial body of work more often than not there’s a subtitle, you know?

CG: Do you feel like putting all your drawings out there like you did at The Drawing Center [in 2017] and in Timothy Taylor’s booth at Frieze London [in 2023] is like presenting a record of your existence in a certain sense? Even more intimate than a retrospective, it’s literally a record of your life on the walls?

EM: Yes and you could probably pick up on a lot of things by looking through all those drawings because it’s so unfiltered. Oftentimes, I do have to cross things out that I’ve written, because it’s too personal or unnecessary.

CG: Interesting. So is it difficult for you to put those drawings out there? Do you feel exposed in some way?

EM: Only with words sometimes, you know? But no, because I also get the most confidence from drawing,  I am proud and happy to show drawings all the time. I feel like I’m a draftsperson and I have a lot of confidence in drawing.

CG: Right. So, it’s a record of your life but also in a certain sense; a record of who you are as your best self.

EM: Yeah.

CG: That’s lovely. Another question. Who are some of your favorite artists / drawers?

EM: Whose drawings do I get really excited about? Caroll Dunham of course. With his drawings, at any given time you can see loose doodles and pencil drawings with shading and then the occasional ballpoint pen drawing and full colored pencil drawings and then he draws with paint. Also, George Condo, Eva Hesse, Lee Lozano—unbelievable drawings—and A.R. Penck.

CG: When you respond to a drawing, what is it that you are responding to?

EM: Probably, speed; if it looks like it was made quickly, real raw areas, real aggressive. I love when you can see that the paper is dented or ripped or over-erased and there’s the mystery of what happened to the drawing. 

CG: So a drawing where you can see the process of its development.

EM: Yeah. I love Roy Lichtenstein’s preparatory drawings a lot. There are plenty of times where I can appreciate someone’s paintings but I like their drawings a lot more because they’re not so tight.

CG: I also love preparatory drawings and unfinished drawings and the idea that something that appears one way could've gone a different way. Which is something I feel in your drawings, this looseness, where a form goes in one direction in one drawing and in another direction in another.  There’s an ability to give up control in drawing that is much harder to do in painting.

EM: It’s harder to achieve. It’s harder to make look successful.

CG: And some people don’t want to achieve that. That’s not their goal at all.

EM: No, and that’s fair.

CG: Would you say that your drawing practice has changed over time?

EM: I don’t know, I think for sure the common thread is that there are no rules or stipulations. When I look back at my drawings over the years, you can see how much joy I take in drawing and in different types of drawing. You’ll see a really fleshed-out drawing of my dog next to a drawing I made in five minutes. It’s always been like that. I’ve always drawn like that. Drawing is related to my life and there are different modes of living and different kinds of days and the drawing kind of keeps up with that.