“I used to have this habit when I was a kid … I would to look at the sun. I would tilt my face to the sky, and in a test of wills, it would be me versus the sun,” shares Edward Martinez. “So with my retinas on fire, my eyes squinting, I’d dance my eyes around the edges of the sun, trying to see what I shouldn’t. They would burn and I would have beads of sweat forming on my forehead before I would quit. In the end I didn’t see the sun as much as I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, on my skin, and would receive a certain type of confirmation. I would breathe deeply and think, “I am … here!’.”
Originally from Newark, N.J. raised in San Jose, Calif. by parents of Puerto Rican descent, Martinez or also is known as “SCAPE” in the artist community, shares his passion one brush stroke at a time.
Like other first generation immigrants, his parents came here in pursuit of the American dream; theirs’ was a home where basic living was the norm, so any art school was out of the question. After moving to the west coast, as a teenager, SCAPE immersed himself in academics. He was a prolific writer and avid reader, but learned that his only means of expression would be drawing and painting. He began to paint on just about any surface, and fell in love with graffiti, that he insists is an art form that has been around as long as the Egyptians.
Now, as an established artist, writer, and arts advocate for children, he is here.
SCAPE describes himself as a self-taught, inquisitive, and quiet soul, dating back to when painting was his means to escape. Early on graffiti art became his passion, “his calling,” and wanted to make others understand that it was and is a respectable art form.
His work is well known and respected not only in the bay area but at an international level ranging from the San Jose Roosevelt Community Center where he was commissioned to adorn the walls and the outside of the neighborhood center; to Stanford’s School of Law, to New Mexico and China where he was invited as a guest artist, and most recently to the UK where he was commissioned as the opener for the Brighton Arts Fringe Festival in May. He is the author of two books titles Graff: The Art and Technique of Graffiti and Graff 2: Next Level of Graffiti Techniques.
Although he has been in the graffiti scene since the 1980s, he has refined and acquired a deeper sense of self as an artist in more recent times through his large scale pieces that have acquired him wall space in several art galleries in San Jose and San Francisco. Yet, SCAPE is low key, lives in San Jose and grabs lunch at local spots.
“Kids come up asking me to sign their tag books and look up to me; it was just yesterday that I was running around just like them.”
SCAPE recalls going out to neighborhood tunnels at midnight where deep in the night he would claim his piece of immortality by tagging neighborhood walls. His pieces were (and still are) larger than life, capricious, and extremely loud. Even with spray paint, as a tag boy, he pushed the boundaries by adding in new styles and bold colors that challenged the conventional block style cholo writing at that time which was highly recognized as street graffiti.
“I always knew I was gifted, and so did my parents, but they didn’t know what to do with my talent.” He got into graffiti because it was free it didn’t require attending art school, fees or a tuition. He is a self-taught artist. His parents didn’t have the means to enroll him in an art program and were busy making ends meet. “So I see the kids I work with (He teaches art to youth in East Palo Alto) and I validate their stories, and the potential they have.”
He has come a long way since those days of tagging tunnels, train stops, and alleys, now placing himself in the world of fine art, with the mastery of multiple disciplines with graffiti as the foundation. With this he has made many believers that graffiti really is a respectable form of art.
SCAPE’s fine art paintings combine elements of graffiti art and abstract expressionism to create large scale, rhythmic and expressive compositions that transcend mere technique.
He adds, “My hope is that my work will be inspiring, motivating, and equally meditative. I can make my artwork, my art of graffiti accessible to anyone and everyone.”
His work embraces the experience of growing up in a society that did not revere graffiti as a form of artistic production and fusses elements of fine art, expressionism, and adheres to his relentless love of color; SCAPE has made this art form his own. Now, decades later, he continues to push these norms by incorporating these styles into large scale pieces that have granted him wall space in San Jose at City Hall, San Jose Center for Latino Arts, MACLA, and Galeria de la Raza, also in San Francisco at The Punch Gallery, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Los Gatos Museum of Art in Los Gatos, Calif. Moreover, it has granted his access to travel overseas to the United Kingdom, and China where he has been commissioned for large scale pieces and to speak of his journey as an artist.
His work is large and bold. It “Screams Positive And Creative Energy,” hence, his artist name.
Written and Photos by Patricia Ruiz | SVL Intern