Review: Daniel Joseph Martinez roams L.A., making observations

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In a whirlwind of an exhibition at Roberts & Tilton, Daniel Joseph Martinez confirms his reputation as a brilliant mad philosopher. Inspired by the medieval “ship of fools,” in which the mentally ill were housed on wandering vessels, Martinez performed his own ritual unmooring, obsessively riding the buses of L.A. to observe the passengers.

The result is a roomful of paintings in the style of the city’s colorful, vernacular signage, inscribed with Martinez’s observations and declarations. These are interspersed with collages of small, intimate Polaroids. They’re billed as self-portraits but are actually ambiguous close-ups of what could be body parts or excrement or perhaps decaying food. In the center of this maelstrom is a flotilla of uprooted bonsai trees, symbols of death, certainly, but also the remains of lives subjected to extremes of confinement and control. In an adjacent room are companion photographs of storefronts on which Martinez wrote his thoughts as graffiti.

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His musings are, for the most part, rather dark, lamenting “the casualties of a diseased society” or that “we have met the enemy and he is us.” These are leavened by occasional moments of beauty: “I whispered a secret so softly it was like the scent of perfume in the air.” The overall effect is a moving view into a furiously creative, albeit despairing, mind frustrated by the limitations of the body and the body politic.

Roberts & Tilton, 5801 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 549-0223, through March 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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