Christopher Martin
JUXTAPOZ|Spring 2021
The Bare and Bold Truth
As a tattoo and textile artist, Christopher Martin is importantly guided by the tradition of folk art. His reverence for text, appreciation for the history of his material and careful collection of imagery are powerful reminders of how folk and outsider art traditions can be reinvented for new generations, new eras. What speaks to me about Martin’s work is the stark, blunt immediacy that challenges the weight of our world with naked solidarity. On the eve of his solo show at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco, the North Carolina-born, Bay Area-based Martin talks frankly about Southern folk art traditions, race in America and exclusion within the tattoo community.

Evan Pricco: I wanted to start with how and where you collect some of your imagery. There is a historical weight in the imagery, but your remix and reimagining of tapestries, banners, and sewing impart elements of folk traditions. Part of me is wondering about the genesis, but also, about where the research materials come from.

Christopher Martin: Where I’m from, storytelling is a big tradition within the South. I try to capture this folklore through my art and learning more about what inclusivity means in America. By using variations of cotton in my work, both paper and fabric, I’m paying homage to the history that is connected to farming and free labor, which plays deeper into the narrative of my roots while being a free black man today. Also, music is inherently woven into our culture, so I've naturally gravitated to the blues. I love discovering stories through music because the lyrics are anecdotes of slavery and the south.

I think a huge part of 2020 and the reexamination of race came from so many people discovering the nuances of racism. But you were already creating this work, which is not a reaction to 2020; happily, the audience reaction has probably evolved. Can you talk a little bit about that? How have you witnessed the response to your work?

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie from an earlier place in life and have a completely different experience once you revisit it years later? That material never changes, we do.

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