Wrestling robots to the ground

Martin Ontiveros works his buttocks off, and for what? How about we pay this guy a little attention and recognize how all his hard work has paid off. It’s not easy to work with such smooth, tight and clean lines. Can you imagine how difficult it is to make a boxy robot round and natural looking? On top of geeking out on technical techniques, he has also tapped a silver vein of ideas richer than Mexican chocolate with chili.

No matter who you are or where you go, Martin’s work has rubbed off on your eyes. He has hung work in over 25 gallery shows from Portland to Tokyo. Martin’s sincerely graphic visual explosions have been published in Pencil Fight, the Los Angeles Times, the Portland Mercury, The Stranger (Seattle), the New York Press, the Willamette Week, Craphound and the ever-awesome Bunnyhop. Plus, Martin illustrates all the pictures for a series of books called Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot. In an interview I asked Martin which projects, out of the countless, have been his top five.

“Jesus…that’s a toughy,” he remarks, “It’s really hard for me to look back and find anything unique, actually. I’m definitely my own worst critic. It depends on how much I felt that I really showed my chops on something. It feels like everything up until mid-2004 was just training wheels for what I’m starting to do now, and I’m really beginning to tap into some real potential. At least that’s my opinion. That said, I recently did a two-page spread for Pencil Fight that I really dig. Then there’s a couple of t-shirt designs I did for a Japanese kickboxer recently as well. The QEE figures I did for the ‘Qeedrophonic’ traveling show and book were pretty cool. Maybe the Sci-Fi Western show in San Francisco 2003. Last Gasp published a book of it and my piece was in it. There’s a Melvins book, ‘Neither Here Nor There,’ that I had a spread in. Anytime I get work published is a plus.”

Certainly high points like that were reached with the help of his BFA in Experimental Animation, which he received from Cal Arts in 1996. But how did he find a way to push his training and vivid ideas over the edge?

“I think I only just recently got to that edge. I hate to sound boring, but it’s really trial and error. I made a lot of work that sucked and at some point I just figured out what my strengths were and weeded out the shit. God, that’s boring. I guess another part of it is just seeing all this awesome art going on around me and pushing myself to get my work on what I feel is an even level. Maybe borrowing an aesthetic element or two from other artists, either consciously or unconsciously, which is inevitable because art is a bit incestuous as well. Everyone does it.”

Breaking into Martin’s private inspirations is easy – just ask him where it comes from. He’ll say, “Rock ‘n’ roll. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool rocker, straight up.” He’s also pretty engulfed by “Mesoamerican Art. Old school comics masters. Other artist friends and their work. A little professional (yet non-malicious) jealousy and some healthy, friendly competition between your peers in the scene can do wonders to stimulate your creativity.”

Hoping for a glimpse into the future, I asked Martin if he has any upcoming ideas.

“Yep. El Mestizo. I’ve been trying to find a way to express my identity as a person of mixed race (Mexican-American) and the feelings of displacement that come with it for some time now, and have found it in El Mestizo. It’s a theme I can use to merge two cultures, neither of which I’ve ever felt truly connected to, into one. It’s something I feel is personal without being too exclusive for anyone else to enjoy, and not too far from the style I’m known for. Lots of wrestlers, superheroes, skulls, eagles, etc. all done in a palette of pinks and browns. I’m also gearing up to start making my own prints.”

It’s comforting to know that artists who give it their all, like Martin, are with us today. His ideas are executed with crystal iceberg strength and precision, plus the thought and development that has gone into those ideas are dripping with stimulating sincerity like an over-ripe mango.

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