Neon lights illuminate fight against injustice

On Saturday, Angelenos will have their final opportunity to explore the exhibition Patrick Martinez: All Season Portfolio at the Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown. Artistically conscious audiences or those immersed in modern hip-hop culture are sure to have heard of Patrick Martinez.

As a Los Angeles native, Martinez’s Filipino, Mexican and Native American background lends itself to his work. Having been acquainted with art initially through graffiti culture, Martinez genuinely captures the raw aspects of everyday life and human emotion.

Innovative, extremely eclectic, comforting and strangely familiar, his work goes beyond gorgeous aesthetics. His neons, ceramic and painted work stand as beacons of light at a time when many feel surrounded by a darkness propagated by a lack of empathy. The driving force behind this darkness, and an issue eloquently tackled by Martinez, is a lack of attention.

Modern day America, particularly Los Angeles, is ridden with excess. Experiences are manufactured, memory is disposable and history is temporary. For his work, Martinez uses objects traditionally deemed as copious, disposable and forgettable to scream messages at their viewers.

The neon signs that shine on the facades of nail salons and liquor stores are updated in this exhibit. Martinez’s use of neon signage exceeds the emotional consciousness of big-name contemporaries Tracey Emin and Jung Lee.

Martinez’s work soars past emotion into the realm of politics, race and equality. Although controversial, Martinez is not afraid to create socially impactful works.

His neon signage reads with messages like “THEN THEY CAME FOR ME,” “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” with the word “UNITED” deliberately left unlit and “CURRENCY MEANS NOTHIN’ IF YOU STILL AIN’T FREE” — famous lyrics by rapper Tupac Shakur.

The political outspokenness is typical of his work. His series of Pee-Chee folders depicting images of police brutality victims create a stark contrast between an everyday object of considerable innocence and a societal horror.

He not only creates these pieces, but he also takes it upon himself to freely distribute them to students at a number of public schools throughout Los Angeles.

At a time where artifice seems to be particularly inescapable, Martinez has found a way to communicate truth to the masses. His work oversees a plethora of connotations. His illuminated signage and ceramic work writhe with electric color establishing his ability, like that of Mark Rothko, to activate emotion through nuances in pigmentation.

The words on his neon signs and portraits on his folders force viewers to ponder issues of gender inequality and police injustice. The media which he chooses to create act as reminders to pay less attention to objects and more attention to the ideologies they represent.

The potency of his work lies in his ability to deliver messages where they are not typically sought out.

His pieces are familiar, but the stark realities they represent leave the room with a tinge of discomfort. Martinez’s use of America as a motif in his art reflects a time when people are questioning what it means to be American.

He illustrates through his choice of medium that anyone old enough to carry a folder or recognize a neon sign is old enough to be politically and socially conscious.

His Pee-Chee folders silently scream that the answers to intolerance and injustice are not simple but lie in education. Despite the viewer’s political stance, they cannot dismiss that Martinez’s artwork gracefully and unapologetically forces the viewer to pay attention, and for that, he is an artistic force to be reckoned with.

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained a deck that stated that Paul Martinez was the artist. The artist’s name is actually Patrick Martinez. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.