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The transition from photo to drawing to painting has one image submitting to another, creating a dramatic occurrence to which he adds new elements as the need arises. Often there are juxtapositions with other eras and contexts giving rise to apparent absurdity that invites viewers to reflect, question and arrive at controversial ideas. Solemnity gives way to irony when a whole other plane is added to inject the unexpected into that original image.
Among the photographs chosen by Frank Martínez is one showing policemen trying to control a group of fans that are besieging The Beatles. But in Frank’s version, the four Liverpool musicians have disappeared and are replaced by four regular Cubans. Another photo shows a US General throwing himself into the sea just before his ship reaches the Philippine coast—what was interpreted as a heroic act has been interpreted by Frank as an accident. The fact that the ship had no fuel left, forced the officer to jump into the water. The scene, however, awaiting the man on the beach is pure fantasy: a group of Caribbean women in somewhat risqué poses. Both of these examples show how he deals with contrasting scenes, concepts and life situations, often “Cubanizing” the scenes that have originated elsewhere, inserting them, for example, into the Havana Malecón—Elvis Presley appears to a group of kids on the Malecón, or Mao Tse Tung submerged in the waters with a background of Havana buildings. Within these sociological tendencies, Frank often includes racial topics, especially as they refer to US society.
Another of Frank’s pieces is inspired by the moment Richard Nixon abandoned the White House with his wife as they are saying their goodbyes to Gerald Ford and his wife. It is called Movimiento de cuadros [Staff Turnover]. In the background is a kind of gallery of people hanging and taking down paintings of different historical situations. There is one particular paining of a photo that shows people taking down a monument to Stalin in Hungary. The intertextuality here is complex and successful.
Baseball is a subject that has led to two group shows, one in Havana and another in New York, both in 2013. The idea is based on a photo of the building of the Berlin Wall. It is a well-composed metaphor on the phrase “another way of overcoming limits,” showing a baseball player trying to catch a ball that is already on the other side of an obstacle.
Frank Martinez is continuously reconstructing memories. A good example of this is in his 2008 series called Cotton in which he attempts to establish a symbolic relationship between the softness of cotton cloth and the tendency in the American lifestyle of creating commodity after commodity as an evolutionary process.
Data Base and Software are series dealing with a relationship of strange numerical coincidences between computer codes and those coming from a certain area in Santeria. What he wants to show us is the clash between western thinking and the profound ritualistic condition of African religions rooted in the oral tradition.
In one way or another, Frank’s work is marked by the controversy. Most of the situations he chooses to represent—and in our own lives—take place in the crossroads between “Yes” and “No.”, His talent lies in being able to ingeniously make these divertimenti enjoyable and to create controversial ideas. In his installations he has been able to express some ideas in another tone, in another speed, making use of extraordinary freedom in choosing his media. He sets up a relationship between things that last and things which are ephemeral—in Hielo [Ice], he projects the image of Egyptian pyramids over one hundred disposable diapers—between life and death and between the complex and the simple. Clearly he is a creator who does not divorce appearance from content.
May 2015 This article formed part of the May 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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