Emanuel Martinez has been painting in and around Denver for almost six decades, and he’s still going strong. His new show, Emanuel Martinez, opens with a reception today, January 23, at the O’Sullivan Art Gallery at Regis University. He'll be there for the opening, and back at 7 p.m. on February 7 for a gallery talk.
And he has a lot to talk about. Back in 2013, Martinez told us, “I started my first mural when I was thirteen, in a school for juvenile delinquents.” A 1965 graduate of Manual High School, he was active in the early Chicano movement, joining the Crusade for Justice and participating in the walkouts at West High School in 1969, painting through it all. When he was twenty, he did a major work that’s now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art. He painted his first community mural on a wall in Lincoln Park, where he later became the first director of La Alma Recreation Center. “La Alma is my favorite mural because it was community-generated and -painted and has become iconic to the west Denver area,” he said. “It is the epitome of what a community mural should be.”
Today you can spot Martinez’s work — both sculptures and murals — all over town, and he’s received commissions from around the world. The Martinez exhibit is part of a 400-level art class that artist Tony Ortega, is teaching at Regis about Chicano art and liberation (two smaller art shows later this semester also factor into the class). Both Ortega and Martinez were featured in the recent exhibit Para Mi Pueblo, presented by the Chicano Murals of Colorado Project, which was co-founded by archaeologist Lucha Martinez de Luna (Martinez’s daughter), at the McNichols building.
“Martinez’s subjects offer a short-hand explanation of the predominant theme in Chicano art," Michael Paglia wrote in his review of that show. "To compare, contrast and combine the three sources of Chicano culture.”
Martinez's most famous mural, 1999’s “Confluent People,” includes a depiction of three men who represent those sources — a Mexican-American, a Native American and a European-American — each wearing mirrored sunglasses that reflect the same Colorado landscape. That mural was another community project; fifty students helped him paint it along two long walls underneath Speer Boulevard along Little Raven Street, by Confluence Park. Donated to Denver, it’s part of the city’s public art collection, but as Paglia noted, it's in poor condition and without restoration, it could disappear.
“Developers and the city are changing the whole aesthetic here, and I think some of these murals deserve landmark protection,” Martinez de Luna told Paglia. “At least we need to start a conversation about it.”
No time like the present. Maybe at Martinez’s gallery talk?
The opening reception for Emanuel Martinez runs from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, January 23, at the O’Sullivan Art Gallery, Regis University, 3333 Regis Boulevard.
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