Eddie Martinez - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips
  • “I’m kind of dancing around this thing, doing it as quick as possible, and just letting the marks fall where they fall.” — Eddie Martinez


    Eddie Martinez is an American contemporary artist known for his monumental expressionist paintings. Referred to as ‘indomitable’ by Interview Magazine,i ‘rambunctious’ by The New Yorker,ii and celebrated for his ‘exceptional gifts as a painter and draftsman’ by the esteemed critic Roberta Smith for The New York Times, Martinez’s colourful, exuberant oeuvre has garnered significant worldwide appeal, propelling him to being recognised as an art-world sensation whose acclaim only continues to grow.  


    First unveiled in Copenhagen at Andersen’s Contemporary’s solo exhibition for the artist, Eddie Martinez at Andersen’s Contemporary, which ran from 7 October – 19 November 2016, Christmas in July is imposing scale, marvelously encapsulating Martinez’s unique gestural approach. Rendered in a curious combination of silkscreen ink, oil and acrylic paint, spray paint, enamel, and paper towel on canvas, defined lines and vibrant pockets of colour dance across the canvas surface in a manner that conveys both the erratic feel of a spontaneous doodle, whilst at the same time captures the immediacy of the artist’s hand as both considered and controlled.  



    The present work installed at Copenhagen, Andersen's Contemporary, Eddie Martinez at Andersen's Contemporary, 7 October - 19 November 2016 


    Playing Our Part


    While commentators have drawn comparisons between his oeuvre and the work of Abstract Expressionists, including Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston, as well as the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and even Picasso —Martinez’s works are distinctly his own, as he draws influence from a variety of sources that range from graffiti, street art and pop culture, to music, sports and prehistoric cave paintings. As such, the freedom to view and experience the artist’s work at our own volition makes his visceral paintings utterly captivating, as his visual language of bold, muscular brushstrokes has universal appeal and is not rooted in any specific context — instead, it is up to the viewer to devour and distinguish a narrative if they so please. 

    “The thing with viewers, I never have a thing I’m trying to put upon anyone. I think that’s the job of the viewer, to figure out what they want to get out of it. Once it leaves, once I’ve made the thing, it’s not really mine anymore...I mean like in the sense that I like to relinquish control over it. I made it, it’s done, now it’s for people to look at and see what they want to see. Whenever anyone asks me if it’s this or that, I just don’t say anything, because I don’t want to inform it any more than I already in the studio.” 
    — Eddie Martinez

    New interpretations arise with each new, personal engagement, and as expressed by Barry McGee in his interview with Martinez in 2014, ‘viewers might not know where to look, but they won’t be able to look away’.iv This is distinctly true of Christmas in July, which engages the viewer in a visual rally, hitting us with stroke after brushstroke as our gaze is led from the cerulean blue eye in the upper left corner to the beige mushroom-form centre-right, in a manner not dissimilar to the serves and smashes witnessed in a tennis match, a game for which he has professed deep enthusiasm. Bursts of colour are framed by the negative space which provides structure to the canvas, guiding our eyes across the image, and sucking us into powerful pools of rusting reds, vibrant yellows, and electrifying elements of cyan and baby blues that Martinez litters throughout. 


    Like an optical illusion of sorts, the overlapping layers of line and colour produce an array of possible shapes, enchanting the viewer as we try to pick out details from amongst the chaos, such as the porous object to the right of the centre from which apricot tones, raspberry reds and a mix of muted hues slowly ooze out, suggestive of anything from the image of a strawberry to a deflated beach ball. These globular forms and boisterous linear strokes toy with figuration, abstract up close but hinting at a comprehensible image when viewed holistically from afar. 



    Willem de Kooning, Abstraction, 1949-50
    Collection of Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid


    Working in a similar manner, Martinez’s composition draws a comparison to the renowned Abstract Expressionist, Willem de Kooning, whom too, famously walked the line between abstraction and figuration in his oeuvre. Like Martinez, de Kooning’s vivacious strokes hint at hidden forms and narrative meaning amidst the sheer chaos of movement, as encapsulated in Abstraction (1949-50), in which a skull and ladder emerge amidst a whirlwind of colourful clouds. With Christmas in July, the viewer is left in a trance, totally absorbed in the painting as we endeavour to make sense of the artist’s bold marks and areas of considered colour that tantalise us with untold meaning.


    Christmas in July

    Martinez teases us with the title of the work, Christmas in July, which guides to a particular interpretation of this frenetic fantasy world. We are presented with the apparent polarities of blankets of pure white snow, as suggested by the areas of negative space, contrasting with what is possibly a palm tree protruding on the right. Or maybe what we are seeing is a Northern pine, plucked from colder climes, now emerging from a beachscape where the snow is in fact sand, and the grey section at the bottom of the painting a gentle, lapping tide. Perhaps this is an ode to the Christmases celebrated in Australia in July, typically the coldest month of the year and so embraced by some as a time to celebrate in a similar manner to their friends in the Northern Hemisphere. When considered in the context of the title, a sketched reindeer of black and umber, reminiscent of the delineated animal figures found in prehistoric cave paintings, appears to emerge near the bottom of the painting, and the canvas comes alive with dancing baubles and sheets of strewn wrapping paper.  



    Detail of the present painting 



    Grotte de Lascaux, a cave famous for its Paleolithic cava paintings which are estimated to be 17,300 years old, Dordogne, France




    Physicality and Process 


    “The works are getting thinner. I think it’s because I’m more comfortable, more confident. There’s not as much a need for effort, so there’s not as much build up. I lost the taste for all that texture. I went back to drawings. These days, it takes me less time to achieve what I want. I think I spend more time in here in quiet. Before, I beat my body up, physically, being frantic, primal. Now, I’m more interested in more deliberate moves.” 
    — Eddie Martinez


    Martinez’s passion for his work radiates from his paintings and can be felt in each vivid stroke that flurries across the canvas. In 2012, the artist described his process as incredibly physical, likening his studio to a boxing ring, in which he dives into confrontation with the canvas, before moving back to regroup and reassess his next move. However, by 2016, his renewed confidence in his work is tenable, embodied by a palpable lightness in his gestures and thinness in application of paint, not as heavy and dark as his earlier works. Christmas in July embodies his artistic maturity, his deliberate hand evident in his crisp obsidian lines and assured use of spray paint. Oils, acrylics, spray paint, enamel and paper towel coalesce in unison, and splatters and drips coquettishly intermingle in what Barry McGee has referred to as a ‘visual blitz’.iv


    Drawing on Canvas 


    “I wanted to really capture the speed and immediacy of marker drawing, so I just started blowing them up. They come back to the studio and it’s a bit like a piece of paper with a drawing on, and I stretch it and go from there. Sometimes it gets completely obliterated and sometimes not.”
    — Eddie Martinez

    Martinez deftly achieves the feel of drawings in his large-scale paintings, his graphic black lines in particular evoking the intimacy and sheer velocity of hand movement normally afforded to smaller scale works on paper. Martinez uses the silkscreen as a tool to translate his smaller drawings into substantial sketches of scribbled forms and colour, for which his invaluable grasp of graffiti informs his ability to experiment with mark making on a large scale. Further, drawing allows for a level of spontaneity not often granted by painting as a technique, which in turn promotes a certain ‘recklessness’ that Martinez is so keen to capture in his physically demanding works.



    André Masson, Automatic Drawing, 1924
    Collection of the Modern Museum of Art, New York


    Of a similar vein, his works recall the automatic drawings of the Surrealists, such as those of André Masson, free from manipulation and embracing what they felt to be a more authentic creativity issuing from the subconscious self. However, despite the apparent random quality of his individual strokes, Martinez’s final compositions embody a distinct specificity in their structure and interplay of negative space and forms, and the deliberate configuration of works such as Christmas in July signal the unmistakable maturation of his oeuvre by 2016. Importantly, Martinez has also spoken of the influence of the COBRA group on his work, a short-lived yet highly influential artistic movement that took place after World War II, named after Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam from which its leading members hailed, and known for their expressionistic and childlike works.


    “I get super-giddy when the silk-screened canvases of the drawings come in and it’s like five big colouring-book pages. So I stretch them and just go to work, and it has been really fun. That informs other parts of the process and then I feel it is too easy, so then I’ll paint over it.”
    — Eddie Martinez


    The ‘smashed, smeared and scribbled images’ of the COBRA painters mark a striking precedent to Martinez’s paintings, fetishising spontaneity, and believing art should be impersonal, purely intuitive. COBRA’s admiration and adoption of the art of children shaped their volatile, gestural marks and use of strong colours, which can be found in Martinez’s works such as Christmas in July. When talking of his 2016 paintings with former Arts Contributor for Forbes, Courtney Willis Blair, Martinez mused, ‘These works feel like large works on paper, in terms of the speed, the recklessness. They’re not precious. I like the immediacy of drawings’, wonderfully continuing the important lineage of the COBRA painters, but in a manner that is distinctly his.



    Asger Jorn, Letter to my Son, 1956-1957

    Collection of the Tate, London

    Collector’s Digest


    Admired by critics, collectors, and celebrity fans alike, Martinez has established his position as a leading artist in the contemporary art world, with works that continue to captivate and intrigue his diverse audience. This year, his work has been featured at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, in the solo show, Inside Thoughts: Eddie Martinez, which ran from 21 January – 27 February 2021, offering an array of strikingly figurative canvases.


    His work has also been shown by exclusive galleries including Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong (2019), Timothy Taylor Gallery, London (2018) and Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles (2014), and has been featured in numerous solo museum exhibitions, such as the Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2019-2020), Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Michigan (2019) and the Bronx Museum, New York (2018) to name a few.


    Opening 20 March to 15 May 2021, Martinez’s work has most recently been featured at the Loyal Gallery in Stockholm, as part of an exciting solo show titled, New Paintings 2, a nod to his earlier 2008 show at the gallery, New Paintings. Celebrated for creating a language of his own, his work continues to grow in demand with both established and young collectors, obtaining astronomical results at auction over the past three years in particular. 




    Eddie Martinez Whistles While He Works, 2012
    Courtesy Art21



    i David Coggins, ‘Eddie Martinez’, Interview Magazine, 29 November 2008, online.
    ii ‘Goings on About Town; Eddie Martinez’, The New Yorker, online. 
    iii Roberta Smith, ‘Art in Review; Eddie Martinez’, The New York Times, 12 February 2010, online.
    iv Barry McGee and Rachel Small, ‘Interview Barry McGee x Eddie Martinez’, Interview Magazine, 12 September 2014, online.
    v Carter Ratcliff, ‘Snakes and Ladders; The Cobra group, sons of the surrealists’, Tate, online.
    vi Courtney Willis Blair, ‘Studio Visit: Artist Eddie Martinez’, Forbes, 3 March 2016, online.




    • Provenance

      Timothy Taylor, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Copenhagen, Andersen's Contemporary, Eddie Martinez at Andersen's Contemporary, 7 October - 19 November 2016


Christmas in July

signed 'MARtinEZ '16 EM' on the reverse
oil, acrylic, spray paint, silkscreen ink, enamel and collaged paper on canvas
273.7 x 359.8 cm. (107 3/4 x 141 5/8 in.)
Executed in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,500,000 - 4,500,000 

Sold for HK$5,922,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021