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Digital technology can help us visualize things that maybe we don't see around us. It gives us new options.

The whole of what we are

Arantza Martinez – Artist

You portray strong women in your paintings. Why did you start focusing on women as a subject?

I am a woman and it is easier to express myself through female figures.

When you started painting, what kind of learning process did you go through?

At the beginning, I was not so clear about which subjects were most important for me. I realized eventually that every project I started took several months, and sometimes more than a year.

You have to decide what you really want to talk about, what kinds of thoughts you're going to be thinking, and how to make them take shape. I started around 2005, and it probably took two or three years before I was confident with the way I was painting.

At the beginning, I was scared about how to start a project. Because the first lines, the first drawings that you do, they are always very nice. Every time you have a new idea, that idea is just very simple.

You start from something simple, and you think about it more, and you go back to your drawing. And then you move a little bit further and try to visualize it again. And you go back again to your paper, and you realize that if you keep moving, every single day you will know more about it, you will have more information, and it's more clear.

Then suddenly, one day you say, “Okay, you know what? Now it's perfect.” Now you know the shape, every part of the painting, the characters, the colors, everything. But that happens at the end. It always starts from something really tiny. And in my case, that tiny thing is always an emotion. We can talk about absolute trust, or we can talk about freedom, or we can talk about strength balanced with power.

Those emotions make us feel good. They are the ones I like to feel, to be involved with. It is sad that many people somehow think the feelings we have inside are completely out of our control. In my experience, we can train ourselves to conjure them up, and we can do it in a very conscious way.

In fact, even if you really are passionate about your career, you're going to find some moments where the path disappears under your feet, and you're going to feel difficulties, and you're going to feel doubt.

But you can go back to your essence and conjure up more positive feelings. My paintings, for me, are a way to share the emotions we find inside ourselves. In my paintings, the models are not exactly a portrait of myself, but somehow they're the avatar of these emotions. I don't know if that makes sense.

Almost like a more perfect version of yourself?

Yes, that’s a beautiful way of thinking about it. But in fact, it is not something that we don't yet have; it is something that already exists. It is our focused way of perceiving reality. And then, depending on what we decide to do, we can get closer to, shall we say, that “more perfect version” of ourselves. It is already a part of us. But you know, sometimes we look in other directions, we don't experiment. We are not always 100% of what's really ours. This perfect version of ourselves is the whole of what we are.

Maybe you can talk a little bit about your journey, how you got to where you are now.

I paint at least two hours a day, but I also dedicate some time every day to train my emotions. Painting is just another part of it.

I started doing this many years ago, when I moved to New York. I was 23 years old, and I'd never lived outside my home town before. The last five years before going to New York, I was studying finance. And then I wanted so badly to be able to paint. I went to New York without being able to speak English. I spent like three months smiling a lot. I was facing the possibility of not being able to become the person I wanted to be. In that first year, I started having panic attacks.

Then came September 11. And then it was hard: emotionally, I was not balanced at all. And I made a serious decision that I didn't want to experience that ever again in my life. 

Sometimes you realize that you have to change a lot of things in your background that you’re not even conscious of. An important part of my life suddenly was focused on how important it was to feel good. Because without that option, without the possibility of really being in charge of your own emotions, life can be very difficult. So for me that was a change. But it was necessary. It was like, “Okay, if I want to stay alive, I really have to do this.”

So, at about 23 years old, I just started training myself. Then you know, when you're interested in something, you find people interested in the same thing. You find books and you find different kinds of information that you can learn from. And you can practice. I suppose it all came together like one thing in my life: at the same time I was learning how to paint, I was learning how to make myself happy and strong. Suddenly, clarity comes and you're very conscious of what you don't like and what you do. And so then, something as simple as sitting in a bus, going home, and feeling warm inside the bus in the winter, feeling comfortable and safe – that was enough. I was smiling and happy because I was comfortable.

You know, it's like my goals. There had been this terrible fear that I was going to fail myself. But suddenly, it was not important, because the most important thing in my life was just feeling good, feeling alive. We are here to enjoy this life, and if we cannot enjoy life, it does not matter how well you can paint.

How do you feel about using digital technology in art?

Say there is something that ignites your mind. But maybe there's nobody painting it. Digital technology can help us visualize things that maybe we don't see around us. It gives us new options. It inspires us to really do what we want.

You paint women primarily because you're a woman. Have you tried to break away from the tradition of painting women as submissive?

I think it's natural that men and women express themselves in different ways. We have certain different beautiful ways of perceiving reality and facing reality. I have seen so many painters whose main characters are women. You can see beauty, you can see beautiful colors, you can see sometimes domestic scenes, but you can see goddess scenes too. So it's not just one point of view, we can see in art many different roles for women being expressed through these paintings.

In my paintings, it's maybe more distant. It's like, when I look at men, I see them from the outside. I can only perceive what I can perceive, but I don't know exactly what are the feelings inside.

Even if you're close to someone and very familiar with that person, there are things that only we ourselves can understand. The difference between men and women is obvious: you can approach, but it's never going to be the same point of view.

It’s true that in my paintings, women appear delicate, and all of them are beautiful. But maybe, since I know the background, I know the main idea that ignites those paintings, I can see strength and power and eagerness in the women. If you put my paintings in a museum, surrounded by other paintings where the main character is a woman, I don't know exactly if people will feel the difference.

Do you have a clear sense of what your subjects, the women in your paintings, may be feeling?

For me, these paintings are really personal. The characters have a will, they have a real personality, they have this inner conversation, they have their own intention. So it is true, in the way that I visualize the paintings, what I'm thinking about is that power we've been talking about: being capable, keeping your balance, moving forward, feeling good.

Now there are different moments, different situations and different personalities. I suppose that's where it's easier for me, as a woman, representing a woman on canvas. If I tried to do it with a male figure, it would be much more difficult. And that's why, when we see a painting where the main character is a woman, but it's painted by a man, maybe we cannot really feel the insights so clearly.

The good thing is, the different perspective and the different way of facing reality that men and women have, it is special, it is unique. Nothing ever comes from sameness. So I think this contrast, and these differences, give us the strength of humanity.

There are many powerful and competent women in your paintings. Are these women a reflection of yourself?

Sometimes. It’s that same power, it says those feelings are what we like to feel, the ones that I look for, and sometimes I get them to become what I want to be. And some other times I lose them and I find them again.

All these paintings are created based on how I want to be, how I want to feel. They reflect the power that we all have to conjure those feelings, as individuals and as humanity. Those women are trying to convey those feelings for all of us. The paintings are for all of us, and the feelings are for all of us.

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