Gabriela “Gabo” Martinez, born in Tarimoro, Guanajuato, Mexico, currently lives in Houston. Inspired by indigenous Mexican and Native American art, she uses the sgraffito technique to carve patterning and text into her ceramic pieces.
She graduated with a BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in Ceramics from Texas State University in 2018.
Currently a Visiting Artist at Texas A&M International University, Martinez recently shared with me a little about the university’s new artist-in-residence program as well as some of her other past experiences.
Caleb Bell (CB): You are currently a visiting artist at Texas A&M International University in Laredo as the inaugural artist in their new artist-in-residence program. Can you share a little about it?
Gabo Martini (GM): Emily Bayless, a professor and professional artist, invited me to be the first Visiting Artist at TAMIU in Laredo, Tejas. I’ve really been enjoying the engagement with the student body, and the ceramics studio is really beautiful with high windows and lots of light. My first visit was a slab building workshop, which was a lot of fun and helped get the students back into crafting at the beginning of the semester. The second visit was a meeting with the Practicum students who are gearing up for graduation. I shared a couple of podcasts with them that discussed identity and how that can show up in our art. We also talked about the difficulties of being an artist once graduation happens. I was able to be really vulnerable with them and they were very receptive. It was a great experience. I just wrapped up my third visit where I did wheel throwing demos for the students. I think they may have been intimidated by the pace and scale at which I work, but I hope I gave them some ideas on building more complex forms.
CB: While you are there, what is your studio space like? Is it private or shared with the students?
GM: I have a shared studio space with the students. My working area is super close to the kilns, so I’ve been able to flow through effortlessly. I also enjoy sharing that space with the students because it has allowed them to get comfortable and I like engaging with them. Now that I’m starting to finish up pieces for the show in May, they’ve all been dropping by to give me compliments or thoughts on the pieces I’m working on. It’s so flattering when they mention that I inspire or motivate them to push themselves a little harder.
CB: You mentioned an upcoming exhibition in May. Is that in conjunction with your residency?
GM: Yes. My solo show titled Oro Azul / Blue Gold opens May 3 at the TAMIU Gallery. It will be open for the entire month of May. I’m still working out the concept, but I’m excited to be able to play with a colorful display that accentuates my pieces.
CB: Before you came to TAMIU, you were a resident at Sonoma Ceramics in California, which also ended with an exhibition. While they are two completely different programs, can you share a few similarities and differences between them?
GM: Both residencies have been similar in the way that they invite artists to share space and facilities with students and members. I have especially been enjoying the engagement here in Laredo because I feel more culturally connected to border culture. Sonoma was fun and I’m grateful for the experience, but I had a hard time connecting with the community there.
Both residencies have definitely offered me a safe space to be myself, and I’ve been able to take creative risks because of that comfortability. I’m excited to see how my practice and work continues to shift and evolve within community.
CB: In general, I think community is such an important asset. I can see how it could be a huge benefit found through residency programs. In terms of other resources, in your experience, what other benefits come with these opportunities? What does that typically look like with supplies and equipment?
GM: The residencies I’ve participated in have all provided stipends that allow me to focus solely on making work. Sometimes it’s barely enough, but there are other residencies that you have to pay to participate in.
Every community studio is different. In California, the studio has members, mostly people who are curious about working with clay and do it as a hobby. Here in Laredo, the studio is affiliated with Texas A&M and most members are students that are only beginning their clay journey, or advanced students who are searching for concepts through the malleability of clay.
CB: Following your time at TAMIU, do you have another residency lined up? If not, are there others on your radar for the future?
GM: I’m interested in applying to the residency in Houston at the Center for Contemporary Craft, but I may have to wait for the next cycle. There are residencies everywhere but this one in Laredo has really taught me the kind of community I seek.
There’s a residency at Archie Bray that I’m also interested in, but I must honor my mental health before all else and I know very well that freezing weather does not feel good to my body. I’m not set on any and also haven’t applied yet, so we shall see where this path takes me next.
CB: What advice would you give other artists interested in residencies?
GM: As a Latinx maker, I advise other makers of color to be mindful where they choose to do residencies. It can be lonely and isolating to be the only person that looks like you. Even when people are nice, there are often microaggressions and thoughtless comments that tokenize you. Do your research and ask candid questions to past residents, but also think about who your community is and the intended audience for your work. I have found that the most enriching residency experiences have been when I was able to connect with Latinx communities. Strive to find safe spaces that affirm and empower you creatively and spiritually.