Saturday, July 12th marked the highly anticipated solo exhibition “Back in the Daze” by Noelle Martinez at Willo North Gallery. Having recently accepted the Curator role at Willo North Gallery, I was eager to work with Ms. Martinez in this massive undertaking. Martinez has been working on this new series of work and pushing herself artistically for over a year now. Her last solo exhibition was in April 2013 at Palabra Collective. Martinez has been promoting this show from the very beginning stages through Valley Hype interviews and videos and her own social media. Incorporating lettering, portraiture, and vibrant colors, Martinez’s latest series explores Afrocentric music of the 1990’s. The artist hopes her work will bring back memories for the audience when they see a lyric or a portrait of a legendry musician and perhaps reminiscence about their own past. I believe Martinez has definitely found her voice with this exhibition, honing her skills and displaying a striking collection of work that will definitely surprise and excite you.
We had an incredible turn out Saturday night for the opening reception with visitors enjoying live music from a local DJ spinning Martinez’s original “Back in the Daze” mixed tape and other awesome 90’s rap classics. Patrons enjoy refreshments including Kool-Aid, snacks of mini slider sandwiches and colorful desserts decorated with custom “Back in the Daze” toothpicks. For the show, Martinez also created a photo booth using the iconic cover image from an Ol’ Dirty Bastard album where visitors could take their pictures which was a huge hit! Her paintings were a huge success with several pieces selling during the opening along with her personal tribute candles and personalized labels on 40oz bottles paying homage to Tupac, Biggie, Aaliyah, and Wu-Tang. The gallery was filled with colors, bold lines, textures, and history where viewers got a real sense and feeling of the 90’s as they strolled through the gallery. Discussing why she wanted to create an entire series dedicated to 90’s hip hop, Martinez spoke about being fed up with the current lack of authentic music stating, “Music back then told a story, but today its bubblegum rap lacking that flavor and emotion; that is why I created this show.”
With each new piece, Martinez strived to create beyond her norm. She combined her love of music and comics through fascinating and complicated imagery that is sure to engage your senses. A real highlight of this exhibition is her “R.I.P.” series featuring four striking and skillfully executed portraits of legendary musicians Tupac, Biggie, Aaliyah, and Left Eye. Martinez said creating these were her biggest challenge, stating, “I experimented with painting portraits and found myself completely and utterly out of my comfort zone.” Spending time with the artist, I was able to meet her friends and family who supported and encouraged her during the execution of this show. She also collaborated on a few pieces in the exhibition including one particularly striking piece with her brother Paul Martinez titled “This Is How We Do It”, an incredible mixed media piece she is particularly proud that incorporates acrylic paint, spray paint, and a neon light, all while blending together a variety of iconic 90’s images.
This exhibition is a reflection upon and tribute to the 90’s through the artist’s eyes. With “Back in the Daze”, Martinez hopes her artwork and this show will help ignite and push the Phoenix art scene forward. Willo North Gallery is located at 218 N. 7th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85004.