The photographs of Gabriel Martinez give a look of the featured women a worrying strangeness. First off, the eerie nature of their shade surprises us. The skin constitutes in reality a major organ of the human body. Each skin being different, it positions us as individuals but also as mankind. In covering the skin of his models in a thick layer of black paint, the artist confiscates their individuality and humanity. If in this day, black is considered negative and harmful, the history of its symbolism stays firmly embedded in our memories. Black stays eternally synonymous with despair, obscurity and mystery. It evokes unhappiness and death; from there is born our fear. Denatured, these women modify our perception of the human body.
Worshipping the body, Gabriel Martinez opposes the physical body as such for a pictorial study. Sometimes, the density and opaqueness covers the flesh so far as to create an impenetrable second skin; the black is hence violent and deep. Sometimes, the effect of transparency uncovers the imperfections of real human skin. Veins, pores, hairs and lines appear. Far from obscuring the bodily envelope, this process of recovery reinforces the human and living character of the flesh. Over and above just black, it’s the light that this colour reveals that interests Gabriel Martinez. In this, his thought process finds complicity with the paintings of Pierre Soulage and his work on the other facets and transmutations of black. By its luminous power, the blackness reinforces the materiality and the irregularities of the skin. It accentuates the model and the torsion of the body, intensifying their looks.
Standing out from an immaculate white background, the silhouettes imprisoned in their blackness create a striking contrast. It strengthens the tactility and sensuality of the physical presence of the cast. Their attitudes and expressions contribute to this dramatic tension. Their poses are unconventional, vivaciously captured. Fierce or carnal, these women fascinate. No embellishment perturbs our perception. The characters are placed in a parallel world where space and time appear suspended.
With these smooth aesthetics, clean and timeless, traces left by the models appear. From his first works, Gabriel Martinez has been haunted by the shadowy image, the memory, the imprint. This is also why one must interpret the evanescent atmosphere that emits from his first photographs. We perceive a delicate and intricate existential dimension, which finds its emancipation in the women in black. Sometimes, a symbolic object makes an appearance: the rope, which may hold us, guide us, manipulate or kill us. It is the thread of destiny. But what link does it have in this non-universe, other than that of absolute dependence on nothingness? Are these women the last survivors of a human genre lost in a sterilised universe?
At a time of genetic mutations and other artificial devices, the photographer plays on the frontier of natural and cultural, of human and inhuman, of satisfaction and frustration. Faced with a society becoming more and more uniformed and puritanical, the artist looks into questions inherently identifiable with the cult of appearances. Drawing as much from classical art as from contemporary photography, he questions the status of the body faced with the pressures it’s subjected to. Far from contradicting reality, the photographs of Gabriel Martinez distill the human body and capture it at its most vivid point. They purge the traditional values of representation and expound a new way of looking at mankind.
Historian of Contemporary Art
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