Adorning the walls of the Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park are paintings that feature insects, animals and women in vivid colors, with mediums ranging from watercolors to oil pastels. Isabel Martinez, an artist in LA, is the creator of these pieces, which are currently featured in the exhibits “Living Jewels” and “Coming Out of the Dark.” According to the Avenue 50 Studio website, “Living Jewels” is Martinez’s own series, and it consists of 25 paintings of hummingbirds, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies and more.
“Coming Out of the Dark” shows works from twelve artists, including Martinez and its theme reflects on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These exhibits are both open for public viewing until Feb. 26.
Martinez said after moving to the U.S. from Mexico, she attended Los Angeles City College to learn English and take art classes in 1986. She then earned a master’s degree in art from California State University, Los Angeles to teach art at the elementary level, Martinez said.
Martinez said she was one of the students of artist and curator Raoul De la Sota in 1986, and they have since kept in touch. De la Sota is the curator for “Coming Out of the Dark,” and he said he has shown Martinez’s work in galleries before.
“[She] was a person that I really admired a lot. And that’s why I showed her in various shows,” De la Sota said. “Because here was a truly creative artist and a person who had the strength to persevere.”
De la Sota said Martinez was always a creative person ready to take on a challenge. He said he was amazed at her strength to come out of misfortune shining.
“An artist is not just a person that illustrates things,” De la Sota said. “You gotta do it with meaning. You gotta do it with honesty. And you have to do it with strength because you have to stand back behind your work.”
Martinez said personal hardship after migrating to the U.S. greatly impacted her art.
“When I first came here, I did a series called ‘Welcome to America.’ ‘Welcome to America’ because it was not the America of my dreams,” Martinez said. “I was working as a waitress, as a bartender, all the jobs that immigrants did, we have to do in order to survive. And without English, it was really hard. So I did the series. It was a very dark, very obscure series.”
According to Martinez, after her initial negative experience in the U.S., her mental health improved over time, and her art style changed.
“My paintings got brighter, and I got more comfortable doing more colors,” Martinez said.
Martinez said her goal is to highlight Indigenous cultures through art.
“I come from an Indigenous community in Mexico, and I admire the colors, the traditions. It’s something that is inside of me,” Martinez said.
De la Sota said he admires how Martinez incorporates her Indigenous background into her artwork.
“She’s very true to her roots. I think it’s important that an artist be aware of where they come from,” De la Sota said.
Martinez said she appreciates the work of Avenue 50 Studio because it supports Mexican Americans and Latino people in general. Avenue 50 Studio’s social media and marketing coordinator, Kassidy Penso, said the studio opened in 2000.
“From my perspective, I think the studio impacts the community positively [by] showcasing artists who are underrepresented in most galleries,” Penso said. “We are community based, so we always have Highland Park artists in mind.”
Penso said she appreciates Martinez’s artwork and its impact.
“Isabel’s work is always at the top of my favorites list of the people we have here at the gallery,” Penso said. “The way she uses texture and color feels really grounded in her love for nature, and her subject matter is always honoring her life’s experiences and her community. I think her work is a reminder of the importance of honoring our truth and respecting our environments.”
Martinez said living on a ranch in Mexico surrounded by animals inspired her “Living Jewels” art series.
“I was thinking: I was so happy when I was in Mexico on the ranch, and with the insects and the butterflies. Why don’t you paint things that make you happy?” Martinez said.
Martinez said she also hopes her work allows people to appreciate animals more.
“I love animals; animals are my friends,” Martinez said. “And I don’t eat my friends, so I am vegetarian, and it is a way to honor them. This is the first time I’m painting insects and animals. Before I just painted people, and specifically women, but I was thinking, if you love animals, why are you not doing animals?”
Martinez said it took her two months to finish the “Living Jewels” exhibit. De la Sota said he was amazed by the work she had done in that time.
“I admire what she has done in the past couple of months,” De la Sota said. “I don’t know if anyone else could have done it, frankly.”
Entrance to view the exhibits is free, and the Avenue 50 Studio is open every day, Saturday through Thursday, 2–4 p.m.