Artist Daniel Joseph Martinez spent three years riding the buses of Los Angeles – at some points up to 10 hours a day – taking notes, observing street scenes and imagining the inner lives of his fellow passengers.
Those musings form the inspiration for his current show at the Roberts & Tilton Gallery in Culver City. For a show so infused by movement, he sums up his goal for the work in a striking way.
“I’m just asking people to stop for a second,” said Martinez on Take Two. “And imagine what other worlds might be like.”
The term Narrenshiff in the title is a reference to a 15th century book of satire known in English as The Ship of Fools. Martinez wants to use L.A.’s bus system as a kind of “waterway,” and a metaphor to explore the city from a different perspective.
“What I did is I took the same idea of being on a ‘Ship of Fools’ and I thought about growing up in Los Angeles and riding the bus,” said Martinez. “It becomes one of the most interesting portraits of Los Angeles, people riding the bus.”
In many ways, the show is also a loving chronicle of rapidly changing neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Most directly, the photographs and colors draw from Martinez’s current neighborhood in the Crenshaw district, but there are also references to his time in other parts of the city, growing up in Inglewood and living downtown (before the district’s resurgence) and in Boyle Heights.
The show is divided into two sections in the gallery. The smaller, more intimate room features photographs of storefronts, along the bus route that Martinez travelled.
Some feature graffiti that Martinez put on the buildings himself. The combination of storefronts and graffiti can be surprising in a landscape where nearly all public signs are designed to advertise.
“I’m trying to insert poetry into the streets,” said Martinez. “I’m trying to rupture how we see signage.”
The second, much-larger gallery is lined with rows of hand-painted canvases with broad, colorful text across the front. The words, says Martinez are inspired by overheard phrases on his bus rides or what he imagined passengers were thinking.
At the heart of much of his work is the idea of asking questions of the viewer or making suggestions that spark a response.
On a recent visit to the Gallery he paused by one photograph that showed the plain, blue siding of a school wall.
“Are you open to new ideas in the world you live in or do you live a life that is one you inherited?” he asks.
The current show runs through March 8.
More details about the current exhibit at the Roberts & Tilton Gallery.
Roberts & Tilton Gallery
5801 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, California 90232