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Narsiso Martinez: From These Hands/De Estas Manos

Friday, December 1, 2023Monday, April 22, 2024

Narsiso Martinez (Mexican-American, born 1977). Always Fresh, 2018. Ink, charcoal, gouache, gold leaf, collage on reclaimed produce boxes, 278 x 92.5 inches (706.1 x 235 cm). Image courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery. Photo © 2019 Michael Underwood

Hemicycle Gallery
Robert & Elisabeth Wilmers Building

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Narsiso Martinez, born in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1977, has dedicated his artistic practice to depicting and elevating the labor of his fellow farmworkers. Narsiso Martinez: From These Hands, the artist’s first solo exhibition on the East Coast, will feature a selection of artworks made in the last five years, all of which combine drawing and painting on reclaimed produce boxes. Using this unexpected medium, the artist draws attention to historical and contemporary inequalities and erasures in our society by making works that we simply cannot overlook.

Martinez immigrated to the United States with his family in 1997 when he was twenty years old. He was determined to learn English and pursue an education. As he says, “I wanted to break the cycle. In my family of six siblings, I wanted to be the difference and have a college degree before having my own family.” At the age of 29, he finished high school, going on to earn an Associate of Arts degree in 2009 and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2012. He began working seasonally in the apple orchards of eastern Washington State around this time while continuing his formal education, earning a Master of Fine Arts in 2018. Martinez sees education as a key way out of disenfranchisement for his fellow farmworkers, as it was for him.

Today, Martinez has established himself as an artist through his bold material choices, visual language, and thematic content. As a farmworker and artist himself, he celebrates the labor of marginalized people, especially those who bring food to our tables. Visually, he accomplishes this by borrowing many of the formal tools used in historically white, European portraiture, as well as Christian and other religious iconography, to celebrate the groups whose erasure so often leads to their disenfranchisement and struggle.

Narsiso Martinez, Easy Grape, 2019. Ink, gouache, collage, charcoal, and matte gel on recycled produce box, 30 x 27 inches (76.2 x 68.6 cm). Image courtesy Narsiso Martinez and Charlie James Gallery. Photo © 2019 Michael Underwood

Narsiso Martinez. Paula, 2021. Ink, Gouache, charcoal, and acrylic on produce cardboard, 27 3/4 x 16 inches (70.5 x 40.6 cm). Image courtesy Narsiso Martinez and Charlie James Gallery. Photo © 2021 Yubo Dong

Narsiso Martinez. With Care, 2021. Ink, Gouache, charcoal, and acrylic on recycled produce cardboard, 38 x 35 inches (96.5 x 88.9 cm). Image courtesy Narsiso Martinez and Charlie James Gallery. Photo © 2021 Yubo Dong

Narsiso Martinez. Unlimited Edition, 2023. Triptych: ink, charcoal, and Simple Leaf on berry boxes, each 10 x 15 x 4.5 inches (25.4 x 38.1 x 11.4 cm). Image courtesy Narsiso Martinez and Charlie James Gallery. Photo © 2023 Spike Mafford

Narsiso Martinez. Fruit Catcher I, 2021. Ink, charcoal and gold leaf on produce cardboard box, 15 1/2 x 20 inches (39.4 x 50.8 cm). Image courtesy Narsiso Martinez and Charlie James Gallery. Photo © 2021 Yubo Dong

Martinez typically works from personal photographs of subjects who he knows intimately as friends and colleagues. In some cases, the laborers look directly back at us, and in others, heads are bowed to their task or hidden by protective gear. The artist then sensitively renders these images in charcoal and ink drawn on reclaimed produce boxes, in a manner reminiscent of David Alfaro Siqueiros (Mexican, 1896–1974), whose approach to portraiture and depictions of labor was important to Martinez’s development. These are the very boxes laborers toil to fill that are then shipped to grocery stores and restaurants around the country and the world to provide fruit and vegetables for our consumption. In many instances, Martinez incorporates the branding and imagery of the boxes into his compositions, sometimes lending an almost Baroque frame to a portrait and literally connecting them to the agricultural industry.

On the left, a gilt frame from the nineteenth century; on the right, a produce box flattened to frame a new portrait
(Left) Ornate frame appearing on Thomas Lawrence's Portrait of Rosamund Corker, 1827. (Right) Detail of Easy Grape, 2019, shows Narsiso Martinez's unique use of reclaimed produce boxes to mimic the effect of such frames.


This exhibition will take place in the Hemicycle Gallery. Nearby galleries display works in the museum’s collection from the late nineteenth century, including an example by Jean-François Millet (French, 1814–1875), whose work influenced Martinez’s practice. This underscores the importance of his contemporary approach, which ventures outside the white, European mainstream tradition, elevating through portraiture the everyday individual laborer.


Two artworks, a painted landscape of a coastline at left and a black-and-white lithograph of a man's face at right
Two of Martinez's influences: (Left) Jean François Millet (French, 1814-1875). Les Falaises de Gréville (The Cliffs of Gréville), 1871–72. Oil on canvas, 36 3/4 x 45 7/8 inches (93.3 x 116.5 cm). Collection Buffalo AKG Art Museum. Elisabeth H. Gates Fund, 1919 (1919:7).
(Right) David Alfaro Siqueiros (Mexican, 1896-1974). Self-Portrait, 1950. Lithograph, edition: 20/25, sheet: 23 x 16 inches (58.5 x 40.7 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Gift of Frederic P. Norton, 2000 (P2000:1.96). © Estate of David Alfaro Siqueiros / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Mexican Society of Authors of Fine Arts (SOMAAP), Mexico

In Always Fresh, 2018, Martinez depicts a group of people at work on the left and the same group at rest on the right. Capturing various moments across a day in this drawing, Martinez, as he does in his work more broadly, offers viewers a full understanding of these workers as humans. Through such depictions, the artworks on view in Narsiso Martinez: From These Hands invite us to empathize with and honor them and their experiences.


Narsiso Martinez: From These Hands is curated by Associate Curator Andrea Alvarez.

Exhibition Sponsors

Narsiso Martinez: From These Hands is generously supported by Drs. Amy & Julio Alvarez-Perez.