November first and second are celebrated as El Dia de los Muertos–The Day of the Dead– to honor friends and family members who have died. To celebrate, I am excited to share with you the work of one of my favorite artists: Kay Martinez of verveinteriors on Etsy. Her work is often inspired by the Day of the Dead and the Mexican folk art traditions that surround it. I have several of her ACEOs, one small square drawing, and I have my eyes set on getting one of her larger pieces someday.
Your art work combines inspiration from South Asian Mehndi and Mexican folk art. How did these two artistic styles from opposite sides of the planet come together in your art?
I grew up in university towns, so I was easily able to meet people from many different cultures. I didn’t realize how fortunate I was or the impact that would have, but it really gave me a deep appreciation for all sorts of cultural nuances. In college, and then working in post secondary settings, I continued learning from other people and developing this appreciation. I can’t remember when I first got into henna art, but I must admit the initial attraction was probably more the “temporary tattoo” part. Yet it amazed me how fast a henna artist could produce such intricate designs, and that fascination just sort of sat in my mind for a long time.
My mother spent time in Mexico before she married, so she probably initialized my interest there; as a kid, I loved looking at all the treasures she had collected. Growing up in Texas, I was fortunate to have Mexican culture surrounding me. I’m a particular fan of El Dia de los Muertos. I love the idea of embracing the concept of death as a natural part of life, and not hiding it under the rug until it inevitably sneaks back out to find us unprepared to deal with it. And, of course, there’s Frida Khalo. This might sound ridiculous, but the movie “Frida” had a spellbinding effect on me. The morning after I saw it, I walked into work in this sort of drunken, lovestruck state. It’s like I had forgotten what I was supposed to be doing all this time, and now I had all-of-a-sudden remembered. That’s the day I started thinking I needed to make some changes and follow what I had finally remembered to be my path.
Having never been a rule follower (can you imagine?), I just find it so natural to merge the two for my own sinister purposes. Muah ha ha ha ha!
When you were six years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Six. Hmmm. I remember picturing myself as the lady on the L’eggs pantyhose commercial, be bopping down the street with groceries in one hand and a briefcase in the other. She had a smart beige suit on, and lovely Farrah Fawcett hair. I thought, “That’s going to be me when I’m thirty!” Really, the first time I can remember wanting to be anything specific was when I was ten, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out. I wanted to be a bar owner in Nepal, drinking all the men under the table. Just kidding. I have no idea why being a movie archeologist appealed to me- I don’t even like camping.
What do you think the importance of buying and selling handmade is, in the broader context of the society we live in?
Whenever I shop or obtain services from a B&M scene, I’m always concerned about the people involved. Are they paid a fair wage? Do they have health insurance? Is the company I’m giving my money to generally give a crap about their employees? Many times, I’ve asked employees how they like working at a place. If I get the feel it’s not a healthy work environment, I find another place to shop. Of course, I don’t just go by one snarky employee’s comments, or one lone media report, but it is possible to get an idea about someone’s business practices through multiple information sources. If I can help it, I only want to give my money to people who practice fair trade, provide excellent labor conditions, provide eco-friendly products, believe in quality, and certainly don’t engage in animal testing.
Along these lines, if the product is also handmade, what a bonus you’re finding, because you’re helping keep artisan techniques alive for the next generation to enjoy. If an artisan has no venue for his or her work, that technique is likely to die with the artisan. If we can encourage people to keep putting their best talents out there for us to enjoy, I think other lives besides just the artisans’ are sure to be enriched in some way. And when your life is enriched in some way, it’s likely you’ll put your best self forward, and so on.
That said, when you’re buying a product directly from the person who made it, such as you might do on Etsy, you’re keeping those techniques alive, and you can be reasonably sure the artisan has some control over his or her work life. I love supporting people who, despite what society might encourage to the contrary, have had the guts to make art their lives
What is one art form or craft that you have never tried, but would love a chance to try your hands at?
Oh, geez Louise- yes! I wonder if any artist would say no to that question. At this time, I’m really drawn to sewing and knitting. I can crochet in its most rudimentary form, and I really like it, so I think I’d like other fabricky and yarny activities. On the other hand, I feel like I’ve only tipped the iceberg of the art form I’m playing at right now, so I have a lot to explore with the ink and paint scene too. One thing I know, I’m horrible on a potter’s wheel. I took a class, and it was like I had lost all sense of touch, time, and space. I felt like I couldn’t control my own body. It was awful! I didn’t go back after the first day, because I was a big baby. I have a real appreciation for mudders as a result.
Besides drawing and painting, what kinds of activities do you enjoy? What are your hobbies?
Ha. I would love to say I have all kinds of interesting and exotic hobbies, and that I’m this really fascinating person who lives her life to the fullest, but I really can’t say that without giggling. TV, film, and trying to control my household- my hobbies, ladies and gentlemen. I love TV, and I could talk about movies all day long. As well, when we bought our house, I proceeded to tear it up completely, trying to paint every surface possible. As a result, everything is still disorganized five years later. I keep working on it, though. I have five dogs, too, so they take up a little time. Gee whiz- what do I even do with my time? Yikes! Of course, my hobbies used to include hanging out at the neighborhood bar a lot, so I suppose that’s progress.
If you were a candy bar, what kind would you be and why?
Ack! I wouldn’t want to be a candy bar, because I don’t want anyone to devour me. I’m trying, but I can’t seem to suspend reality for it. Perhaps it’s because I have such a personal relationship with candy bars, and I know how I relish them. I’m not going out like that.