Ceramics Monthly: What relationship does the clay you use have with the forms and ideas that inspire your work?
Antonio Martinez: My ideas stem from my own experiences both past and present. Growing up, I worked for my father in his metal shop where we did custom ornamental iron work, such as fencing, railings, gates, and archways. This was a place embedded with a lot of history of our family and wellbeing. My grandfather started the family business doing machine work as a Mexican immigrant before my father took over. Unfortunately, after my father’s passing, the business failed to make it to the next generation. Although my father’s metal shop is still there, it is almost unrecognizable compared to how I remember it.
As a place, my fathers’ shop was very symbolic. It was a staple of my family’s identity and culture. It was dirty, cluttered, filled with metal, machinery, and tools that had lived multiple lifetimes. Throughout my youth, it served multiple functions, most importantly being a place for friends and family to gather. It held Christmas and birthday parties, and we even built a small skate park in the lot next door, which attracted kids from all over. It’s still very much a part of me and I often think back on how active it used to be. I still feel ripples today from its absence as I make my own transitions into new endeavors.
When I was younger, I was never great at metalworking; however, I enjoyed working with my hands. As I discovered clay, it became a way for me to talk about materials, place, and time. My choices of color, surface, and forms in clay are heavily influenced by the elegant and rigid look of wrought iron. Also, the way metal objects were fabricated in my father’s shop is reflective of how I make my work, typically making parts then assembling them.
One of reasons why I gravitated toward ceramics was its familiarity to what we did in the metal shop. We welded and assembled hundreds of feet of fencing, made our own jigs to bend scrolls, twisted our own balusters, and wiped down every piece in preparation for powder coating. The way I approach my making is similar to this process of creating each part that comes together to create a whole. Even though I typically have a form in mind when creating parts, I still want the different components to be visible after assembly. My forms now are a little more removed from direct references to metal, but those ideas are still there in the process and the way that I treat the surfaces.
Lately, I’ve been noticing a transition in my own life as I grow farther from the past into the present, becoming a father myself. Working with clay has become a conduit for me to try and make sense of my own reality.
Photo: Der Lee.