Narsiso Martínez (b. 1977, Oaxaca) creates drawings, paintings, and multi-media installations that celebrate the vital and often invisible labor performed by farmworkers in the United States. Drawing on diverse influences from 1930s social realism to street art, Martínez combines charcoal, gouache, gold leaf, and collage to produce portraits of industrious field workers layered atop cardboard produce boxes. The effect of this juxtaposition is powerful: by placing detailed images of the people who feed us against the slick graphics and punchy text of the corporate food industry, Martínez reintroduces the human element—in all its vulnerability—into our experience of the food we consume.
Martínez’s work is informed by his own experiences as a farmworker, spending summers picking produce in Washington State to support himself while studying at Cal State Long Beach. The exhibition’s title, Rethinking Essential, calls attention to the fundamental importance of farm labor in this country. “When people see my work, I hope they see these individuals who work in the fields — that they’re really at the frontlines of food production, and that they are humans, they have families. We need them to have the same opportunities as everybody else,” Martinez explained in a recent interview. His work reminds us that the indispensability of essential workers extends beyond healthcare, and includes the crucial contributions of farmworkers that often remain hidden from view.
This exhibition is a collaboration between the Institute of Contemporary Art, San Diego and the Museum of Latin American Art. This presentation has been made possible through the generous support of the California Arts Council, Buttgenbach Foundation, and Charlie James Gallery.
Narsiso Martinez (Mexico, 1977) migrated to the United States when he was 20 years old. He attended Evans Community Adult School and completed high school in 2006 at the age of 29. To finance his education, Martinez worked seasonally in the apple orchards of Eastern Washington for nine years. He earned an Associate of Arts degree in 2009 from Los Angeles City College. In the fall of 2012 Narsiso earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from California State University Long Beach. In the spring of 2018 he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in drawing and painting from California State University Long Beach, and was awarded the prestigious Dedalus Foundation MFA Fellowship in Painting and Sculpture. His work has been exhibited both locally and internationally. Narsiso’s work is in the permanent collections of the LBMA, the Crocker Art Museum, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum at the University of Oregon, the Santa Barbara Museum, and others. Martinez lives and works in Long Beach, CA.
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*Narsiso Martínez, Rethinking Essential, Installation view, ICA San Diego. 2023. Photo by Phillip Scholz Rittermann.