Fine artist Yuri Martinez left Cuba in 2000 but Cuba continues to inhabit his paintings. Manifesting a superb technical mastery, Martinez’s figurative oils on canvas reveal a Cuban society where the tint of the tropical sun and the tones of a decadent system combine to create a surreal magical realism where dreams, fantasies, and frustration play together as the leading actor on a stage. Martinez has been compared to Chagall in his blend of cubism and surrealism, and to Botero in his use of expressive faces and satirical social commentary, but his style remains uniquely his own.
Martinez was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1964, into a family of artists. His father is a renowned illustrator and designer and for many years work for Cuba’s National Scientific Academy and his uncles were well-known sculptors, his grandfather was a painter of some note. Martinez and his older brother, now a fine artist as well, would spend countless hours in their family’s small apartment engaged in artistic sibling rivalry, seeing who could out-draw the other.
Graduating from the National School of Arts in 1983, Martinez’s academic background encompassed painting, drawing, sculpting, and designing. He put some of these skills to work as the illustrator and designer at the Ministry of Education in Havana while also painting and selling works in the famed Cathedral Square. But by 1993, Martinez had begun developing and refining what would become his personal style, and it was at this point that he decided to turn his attention entirely to fine art.
Martinez creates unique painterly textures achieved by layering oil on canvas as a watercolorist would, letting the light emerge and shimmer through the background. These textures enrich the environment of his magical images where the ironic message is the depiction of people seeking escape from a deplorable system, whether that escape is found in daydreams, memories, music, or a lover. Sometimes the escape depicted is more literal, with characters flying away, often employing fantastic gadgets-an affectionate nod to the makeshift yet determined creativity of the Cuban character, a creativity that exists within the confines of a reality where simply surviving is part of everyday living.
In 1998 Martinez arrived in Los Angeles for his first successful solo exhibition, “Dream of the Distant,” at Papillon Gallery in Los Angeles. In the shadow of the Elian Gonzalez affair, Martinez was granted special status by the US Department of Justice and the State Department and by Cuban authorities and in 2000 he arrived permanently on US soil with his wife and young son. They are the only Cubans to have been granted such status. For Martinez it was a culmination of a lifelong dream to pursue his artistic career outside of Cuba.
Since that time, Martinez has staged several solo exhibitions and has participated in group shows in Los Angeles and New York. His work has also been displayed at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. Martinez’ paintings can be found in collections around the world in Germany, Spain, Puerto Rico, Chile, Mexico, and Panama. Around the United States, in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco, including sizable collections by Academy Award winners.
-Elementary School of Art (Havana City) 1975-1979
-National School of Arts (Havana City) 1979-1983.
"Degree as Professor in Painting and Drawing"
-National Animation Studios at ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Arts and Cinematographic Industry) 1985-1986