For Melissa Martinez, the timing couldn’t be better for a show about family.
The Tempe artist’s work appears in “Family Matters,” a free show opening Saturday at The Gallery at Tempe Center for the Arts.
“It’s appropriate to where we are in life right now,” said Martinez, who became a mother in 2011. Since then, she says the subtle focus of her work has been family, “although in a very loose way. You don’t look at my pieces and necessarily think that’s what they’re about.”
The gallery show features a variety of media and themes created by professional artists from Arizona, including Stephen Marc, who has a solo exhibition this summer at Phoenix Art Museum. There’s also a wall of work by teens whose art was juried into the exhibition.
Saturday evening’s free opening reception will feature a booth where visitors can have an old-fashioned silhouette drawn by Mesa artist Lynette Andreason or museum docents. The service is complimentary.
Martinez, who grew up in a suburb of Chicago, tells more about the influence of family on her life and her art.
Q: Looking through your portfolio, one sees trees, clouds, sod, rain — elements found in nature. How would you explain what drives your art to someone who is just discovering you?
A: I empathize with the natural world, so my art work a lot of people interpret as being environmental activist-type work. I’m not opposed to that. I love nature, for sure, and I do use natural imagery. But it’s more personal than that; it’s just what comes to mind when I think of a way to convey my feelings.
Q: Are there places around here that yield inspiration or ideas for you?
A: When the weather’s beautiful, I go for a walk or a bike ride in my neighborhood every single day. I love to go hiking in the Superstitions. Now that I have a baby, I’ve been going to Desert Botanical Garden all the time; it’s so easy to just push him in the stroller. But, really, I feel like nature is already a part of us and our everyday lives. I feel like you don’t have to go far to see nature. It’s kind of a matter of paying attention.
Q: Tell us about “Sublime,” your piece in the show with hundreds of butterflies that seem to move all about the space.
A: My baby boy was about 3 months old when I was making those butterflies. When you’re pregnant, people tell you that you’re going to love this other person so much, and you think, ‘Well, I’ve loved my mom or my dad or my husband or my sister, or whoever, and then you have a child and you realize you had no idea before how much you can love another human being. It’s nearly impossible to describe until you’ve experienced it yourself. So, I was trying to think of how to convey this love that’s all around you. Butterflies just popped into my head. Metamorphosis, rebirth, innocence — butterflies have all these ideas tied to them.
Q: Your work reflects moments and feelings, some of them fleeting. Is it a challenge to silence the noise around you and take note of beautiful moments as they’re happening?
A: Those are just things I happen to see, and when I see them I really do pause. I’m a very busy person. I’m always doing things, and I don’t sit still most of the time. But when I do see something, I really do look at it. I don’t know if other people do that, if they notice the way thorns grow out of a saguaro or the color change on a rose. So many of us are so busy, it’s hard to take the time, but I don’t know that you have to take a lot of time when you’ve made it part of your life.
Q: Your son is now 11 months old. You have an online furniture business and five current art exhibitions. How do you make time for your passion amid the daily demands of work and parenthood?
A: It’s hard to do all of it and feel like I’m doing it all well. Something ends up being sacrificed. When I was working (a regular job) and wasn’t a mom, it wasn’t a big deal to spend all week working on my art. I could be as selfish as I wanted to be. But now I would rather be spending time with my son and my husband.
It’s hard to say this, but I’m probably not going to end up doing art work unless they’re commissions. I won’t quit making artwork; I’m going to cut back. And when my son goes to preschool, I can resume making artwork more at that time. I feel sad about it, for sure, but I feel very fortunate, to be totally honest, to stay home with him right now.
It took us a very long time to get pregnant. We waited three and a half years for this little guy, and in a few short years (your children) go to school and you never get them back, in a sense. Artwork, I can make any time. This time with my son, it’s not like that.
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