Located on the tip of Africa, Ceuta is a Spanish city that lies outside the territory of Spain. The city, a cultural melting pot of Spanish Christians and Moroccan Muslims, represents the historic routes of many an empire. Javier Martin, an artist who grew up there, says he“experienced and connected with other cultures as a child, which is a very important component of the message of my art now. It opened my mind to see this world with very different eyes.”
Martin creates a brand of conceptual art that consists of objects and installations that emit social messages about luxury, violence, art history, and much more. Sculptures such as Social Reflection, the figure of a body clad all in white, sitting on the ground with his palm facing up in a begging position, quite literally reflect the world he sees around him—the sculpture, with its hoody up, contains a mirror where the face should be.
Martin’s creative practice had a precocious start. For him, his art class at the age of seven changed his life—he describes the scent of oil paint the first time he walked into his art class: “It holds a very powerful place in my memory.” His teacher allowed him a good measure of freedom, and for Martin, this opened up a whole new world. “I never painted to recreate an image like the rest of the students, I always painted what I saw in my mind or emotions. The moment when I discovered art, I did not focus on a particular style. For me it was an opportunity to express myself and share my entire interior.”
For Martin, the process of art making was therapeutic. “I struggled in school and with other things in my personal life, so for me this painting class was like therapy. At that moment I didn’t realize the power I held at my fingertips, all I knew was that painting transported me away from reality and was where I felt the happiest. I felt free.” This might explain Martin’s trajectory as an artist through today.
Having won his first award at the age of nine—the CAJA Madrid Young Artist Award—Martin started his dive into the complex art world very young. He started learning about the Spanish masters, and Picasso especially made a dent. Later in life, he came across the work of Maurizio Cattelan, and was deeply inspired by the Italian artist’s potent sculptural satire: “His art carries strong messages meant to revolutionize society. What’s happening in the world around me is constant source of inspiration. Everything from consumerism, immigration, war, and the superficiality of society.”
However, as with works such as Power Tool—a shovel with a sculpted wooden fist instead of a blade, placed neatly on a plinth—Martin doesn’t often come out and directly criticize certain platforms or positions.
As he says, “I just simply put two realities together, and people can form their own opinions.”
This also rings true for his work The Cleaning of Power, a gold brick scrubber, a mix of found object and bygone reference to the gold standard of wealth.
Though this ambiguous combining of realities is true for much of his work, there’s also an undeniable, melancholic stance on the state of the world: “War and violence is simply part of our reality,” Martin says. “Art has a purpose and should not just be beautiful. As an artist you have responsibilities. I could not possibly paint flowers in the world that we live in.”
Martin has had the privilege of traveling the world, visiting art museums, and learning about the long, variegated history of art. As a result, he engages the history of art as the history of beauty, but then questions just what beauty is. “I often use beautiful things to draw people in, but when people see something that is difficult or disturbing, they look the other way.” His combination of different art forms—such as collage, performance, and even fashion—challenges traditional ideas of what art is.
“Fashion plays an important role in my art, as both the creativity and social aspects of the industry interest and inspire me,” the artist says. He explores this in his group of works titled Blindness Light, a concept the artist has been working with for over 10 years. The works contain images of posing woman with neon lights embedded in them, blocking their eyes and sometimes highlighting other parts of their bodies.
“Blindness Light is inspired by posters and advertisements you see when walking down a city street: perfection juxtaposed by the grit of the city’s surroundings.” He adds: “The neon light over the eyes represents the social blindness caused by consumption and technologies.”
Martin’s art is itself embedded with conflicting messages. They are testaments to the back-and-forth nature of art, its simultaneous critique and co-option of global wealth, it desire to be an economic engine while also drawing attention to the violent tendencies of society. The artist, who was recently commissioned by Property Markets Group for a new work in the blindness series to be displayed on a building in Downtown Miami, says that he hopes his work continues to be exposed to new audiences around the world.
“But my ultimate dream is to be a part of art history and change things in this world and our society through my art,” he says.