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Art

#collage#drawing#food#Narsiso Martinez#portraits

In ‘From These Hands,’ Narsiso Martinez Honors Individuals Who Labor for the Food on America’s Tables

March 12, 2024

Kate Mothes

A mixed-media portrait of a farmworker on a grape box.

“Easy Grape” (2019), ink, gouache, collage, charcoal, and matte gel on recycled produce box, 27 x 30 inches. Photo by Michael Underwood. All images © Narsiso Martinez, courtesy of Buffalo AKG Museum, shared with permission

When he was 20 years old, Narsiso Martinez immigrated to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, with a powerful resolve to learn English and pursue a university education. “I wanted to break the cycle,” he says. “In my family of six siblings, I wanted to be the difference and have a college degree before having my own family.”

At 29, Martinez finished high school, and in 2012, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts. And while he continued his education in pursuit of an MFA, he began to work seasonally in the apple orchards of eastern Washington state. Drawing from the visual language of produce brands and relationships with people he met on the farms, he developed vivid mixed-media works emphasizing the individuals who perform the labor necessary to fill grocery aisles, restaurants, and refrigerators around the country.

A mixed-media portrait of a farmworker on a produce box.

“Fruit Catcher” (2021), ink, charcoal, and gold leaf on cardboard produce box, 20 x 15 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches. Photo by Yubo Dong

Martinez’s solo exhibition From These Hands/De Estas Manos at Buffalo AKG Art Museum brings together pieces completed within the past few years, focusing on produce boxes as both collage components and as framing devices for striking portraits. He often portrays his subjects wearing baseball caps and scarves over their faces, which protect them from the elements.

The artist typically works from photographs of people he knows personally, rendering his subjects in charcoal and ink. He often applies gold leaf in addition to the bright logos of various produce companies, juxtaposing cheap labels and cardboard often destined for the landfill with an opulent aesthetic evocative of Western Baroque paintings.

The face coverings also draw attention to the workers’ anonymity while emphasizing each person’s often unacknowledged role in keeping food on Americans’ tables. Martinez depicts fellow immigrants and stalwart workers, celebrating the labor of marginalized people.

From These Hands continues through April 22. Find more on the artist’s Instagram.

A large-scale collage of portraits of farmworkers made on assembled produce boxes.

“Always Fresh” (2018), ink, charcoal, gouache, gold leaf, collage on reclaimed produce boxes, 92 1/2 x 278 inches. Photo by Michael Underwood

Detail of a central portrait or a farmworker made on assembled produce boxes.

Detail of “Always Fresh” (2018)

A scene of farmworkers and ladders in an orchard on a found cardboard box.

“Checker Leading the Crowd” (2023), charcoal and simple leaf on produce cardboard, 23 1/2 x 15 inches. Photo by Yubo Dong

A portrait of a farmworker unloading a bag of produce into a bin, drawn on an orange juice carton.

“Golden Crop” (2021), ink, gouache, charcoal, and acrylics on juice carton. 11 3/4 x 15 1/4 inches. Photo by Yubo Dong

A portrait of a farmworker next to his ladder on the inside of a produce box.

“Nature’s Candy Picker” (2023) ink, gouache, charcoal, and simple leaf in cherry box, 23 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 6 inches. Photo by Yubo Dong

A farmworker loading produce next to some ladders on an opened-up cardboard produce box.

“With Care” (2020), ink, gouache, charcoal, and matte gel on found produce box, 35 x 38 inches. Photo by Joshua Schaedel

A portrait of a farmworker on the side of a Paula brand box of lemons.

“Paula” (2021), ink, gouache, charcoal, and acrylic on produce cardboard box, 16 x 27 3/4 inches. Photo by Yubo Dong

A triptych of three portraits of young people on the inside of produce boxes.

“Unlimited Edition” (2023), triptych: ink, charcoal, and simple leaf on berry boxes, 15 x 10 x 4 1/2 inches each. Photo by Spike Mafford

#collage#drawing#food#Narsiso Martinez#portraits

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