Commonwealth and Council

Century in Strata

Leslie Martinez


Dallas-based painter Leslie Martinez presents Century in Strata at Commonwealth and Council, the artist’s first presentation at the Los Angeles space. The exhibition features a new series of multimedia paintings examining the ways in which politicized bodies rebuild their personhood, healing, and autonomy against the structural and physical limitations of their site.

Martinez’s colorfully stained, textured canvases use recycled media—rags, T-shirts, charcoal, sawdust, and other detritus from the artist’s no-waste studio—to create a speculative material record of the socio-ecological landscapes in which the artist lives and works. Many of Martinez’s paintings abstract and draw inspiration from the visual culture and geography of their native south Texas in their rich, elemental palette and spirit of material resourcefulness (rasquache). Deploying a morphology of abstraction and sculptural manipulation, these labor-intensive objects also seek to elucidate the cycles of brutalized intervention which mark our current political moment, and with which Martinez’s home state has become increasingly identified: the U.S. border crisis, ravaging natural disasters due to global climate change, as well as the organized war against queer, trans, femme, and BIPOC constituents.

Borders and boundaries—their enforcement, embodiment, and perforation—inform every part of the way Martinez creates and conceptualizes their work. Century in Strata mines the parallel forces of power/brutality, damage/repair, and excavation/concealment which thread our contemporary experience to the past. The paintings offer Martinez’s familiar play with color density and opacity, using techniques in staining and gradation, while offering new dimensionality in their transfiguration of material. Pliable sections of unconventional media are soaked, twisted, folded, crumpled, and sewn into a queer morphology of intrigue and confusion.

This new body of work is especially informed by the refined painting processes Martinez has adopted in efforts to accommodate their own physical healing. Where previous large-scale paintings embraced immersion and spatiality, the works in Century in Strata relate to the body through an intimate scale specified to the exact limits of Martinez’s physical reach. Dense layers of built-up paint, soil, and rags mimic the strata of knotted fascia, ligaments, muscle, and bone which brace and protect the body from impact. On the surface, hazy yellows and greens (of chemical gasses or toxic waste) clash against inky pools of black (perhaps the remnants of a charred wreckage). What results are objects that echo a fraught external reality while also celebrating the microscopic processes of repair that unfold—unseen yet visceral—deep within the healing human body.

As targeted force and pressure release lifeblood to scarified tissue, Martinez also believes that an excavation of our shadowed past allows for the undoing of persistent cycles of harm across human history. Century in Strata investigates the ways in which trauma can be undone on the cellular level, unbinding the inner fibers that allow our bodies to move forward.

Leslie Martinez (b. 1985, McAllen; lives and works in Dallas) received an MFA from Yale University in 2018 and a BFA from The Cooper Union in 2008. Solo exhibitions have been held at Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles (2023); Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2023); and And Now, Dallas (2021, 2020). Selected group exhibitions have been held at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (forthcoming); Lehmann Maupin, New York (2022); Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York (2021); and The Latinx Project, New York University (2020). Martinez has participated in residencies at Denniston Hill, Woodbridge (2023); Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas (2020); and Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson (2019). They are the recipient of the Latinx Artist Fellowship (2022).

Martinez’s work is in the collections of Dallas Museum of Art; Pérez Art Museum Miami; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Speed Art Museum, Louisville.