Artist Angelica Raquel Martínez, a Laredo, Texas native, continues her familial legacy of storytelling in works on paper and textile installations.
“I never questioned any of these stories and experiences. It is just like breathing, it is a part of my culture.” —Angelica Raquel Martínez
Raised on la frontera between Mexico and Texas, San Antonio-based artist Angelica Raquel Martínez creates works that straddle the line between reality and dreams, in which familiar animals are made unfamiliar through textile techniques and iconographic interventions. Martínez attributes the origins of visual language to an oral tradition passed down through her grandfather and enacted during regular family gatherings.
“My work is a celebration of and investigation into my childhood memories, self-storytelling,” says Martínez. “Spirituality is important in my family—there is this storytelling ritual we would do while camping or at carne asadas in the backyard. When it got dark towards the end of the night, we’d sit around and start telling stories, retelling tales, sharing experiences that were scary or unexplainable, or talk about local lore.”
When she left Laredo to complete her BFA at Texas State University in San Marcos, Martínez initially felt disconnected from her familial storytelling in her artistic practice.
“Once I moved out of town for college, I realized how the world is so vast and different, and everyone’s beliefs are so varying,” she says. “Even though telling these stories gave me such a good, hot-blooded feeling of magic—possibilities that were beautiful, daunting, scary, and inspiring—I shied away from telling those stories when I moved.”
However, with her grandfather’s passing, she began seeking inspiration from these same stories as a graduate student at the University of Texas in San Antonio. “I had a moment where I thought, ‘I’m about to lose someone who is such a pillar of my understanding of the world,’” says Martínez. “Reflecting on these experiences with him and remembering all the stories, I had the urge for the first time in a long time to make art about it. Because I had always just been an oral storyteller, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I made work about those stories.”
In addition to turning to new subject matter during her MFA program, Martínez also experimented with techniques, including needle felting and rug-punching, which she taught herself in 2019, and continued developing during the pandemic.
“I’ve always drawn and painted, but I really love sculpture,” says Martínez, who has exhibited at San Antonio’s Presa House and Studio Comfort Texas in the tiny Texas Hill Country town of Comfort. She came across textile techniques as a means of creating three-dimensional work that can be “soft, lovely, attractive, and repulsive,” she adds.
Los Tesoros De Mi Abuelito (2020), Martínez’s first finished sculpture using her newly developed textile skills, mixes cuddly with creepy in its representation of a two-headed albino deer—its scarlet entrails spill out from its fuzzy underside. Patches of shaggy green rugs decorate the platform underneath the resting deer. Threaded to this verdant patchwork is a hooked rug figurative work of three lit candles against a nighttime sky of a solitary cloud and twin stars.
While her families’ stories are essential source material for her practice, Martínez—who’s currently showing work in the group exhibition Drawn in San Antonio—Today at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio—often disrupts the original oral descriptions of animals and figures in her art with her subjective experiences.
“Not all of my work is just retelling of family stories,” she says. “I also want to explore my dreams. So I take snippets of my dreams and my experiences and my own ideas of concepts of stories that would lend some sort of a lesson or fable that is relevant to cultural and social contemporary moments—I want to interweave it.”
Spirit Epoch, Martínez’s solo exhibition opening at Houston’s Lawndale Art Center on February 26, 2022 and on view through May 14, 2022, will include drawings, paintings, and soft sculptures from her 2020 thesis exhibition and new sculptures and hooked rug works.
“My thesis show focused on my grandfather’s passing and thinking of that loss and the continuation of relationships after death,” she says. “Spirit Epoch is me taking up that mantle or role of storyteller—I want to tell my own story and share it with other people beyond just my family.”