Painting for Worship


For me, painting is—and I see in retrospect
it always was—very similar if not congruent to Quaker meeting for worship. The difference is in that worship, alone in
my studio it’s more of a solitary prayer by myself. You would think a person that spends 8 hours
a day by himself in silence wouldn’t need to go to this place to be with many other
people for more silence. It’s essential for me to have the experience
of being with people. My name is Adrian Martinez. I live in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. I’m a member of Downingtown Meeting. My work is oil painting. It’s oil paint on canvas. It’s a very old school technique, very simple,
goes back 500 years. There’s nothing technologically innovative
about it, but with these simple tools you can get infinite variations and glazes and
scumbles, and so the poetry of just a few paints has always been miraculous to me, and
it still remains that way today. I grew up in a very bad place, a very dangerous
place, a very violent place and thank God it was an area where they had large, magnificent
and free museums. In a museum, I had an “art attack” looking
at a painting. I had favorites that I wanted to find: my
favorite knight on a horse, my favorite soldier, my favorite… you know, boy stuff. And then I walked by a 13th-century painting,
a very obscure artist, Sassetta. I got flushed and panicky. I rushed out and was hyperventilating and
was thinking, “Oh my god, what’s happening to me?” And then I realized—I’m talking 9 years
old here—I realized, “Oh my god! That’s art.” That’s what art does. That’s what art can do. And then I went to the next step and said,
thought, felt: “I can do that.” I grew up in Washington, D.C., before the
subway system. It was a very different place. At night it was a ghost town except for the
slum areas. When I was a little kid in D.C., I had these
clothes that were very raggedy and we were very poor and I remember having my hands around
the bars of a big fence looking at the White House and thinking, “What goes on in there? Who’s in there and what are they doing?” And every once in a while, the gates would
open and a big black car would come out and people would gather around, saying, “Who’s
in that car?” Thirty years later, I met President and Mrs.
Bush. They bought a large painting of mine, and
when he became president, they asked me to do the first Christmas card. To do that, I’d have to go to the White
House. So I went to the White House. In the White House, the gates opened, I went
in. I had a very good time with them. And that is a relationship that continues
to this day. It’s very fulfilling. I did a painting connected with the series
I was doing on Native American interaction with Quakers, and one of those paintings was
called Meeting for Worship. All these children and parents were dressed—from
my Meeting, from Downingtown Meeting—were dressed in 18th-century clothes, sitting as
they do in Meeting for Worship. All those people, including my wife and son
are there, were and are close friends, members of Downingtown Meeting. It actually became a meeting for worship. The kids, they just went into a “covered
meeting.” And that I didn’t expect. And even when I was done with my work, I was
not going to interrupt… I just sat there. It was incredible. The painting I did, Meeting for Worship, I
just knew was not something that was going to get sold. It was not an economic decision. It was a necessity to do, nonetheless. When I did it, I had this big show and it
was immediately purchased. First one. And it’s interesting: where it went was
the boardroom of an insurance agency. The man that owned the company bought the
painting because he said, “The reason I need this painting, and I need it in the boardroom,
is because we need more of that in our business.” And I thought, this goes back to when I was
a 9-year-old sprout getting an “art attack” in the National Gallery. I’m thinking, “That’s art. That’s what art can do.”

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