By Jonathan Baca, Copy Editor | Photos Provided by Eric Christo Martinez
From Albuquerque’s mean streets, to a six-by-nine foot cell in a federal prison, to the walls of the Albuquerque Museum, the life of local artist and former student Eric Christo Martinez has been one of inspiration and conviction.
After honing his artistic skills and craft behind bars, Martinez has emerged as a successful painter and tattoo artist, and now he is working to give back to the community, teaching kids and convicts that art can be a powerful release from the harsh realities of life.
Martinez struggled with crime and drug addiction from an early age, and at the age of 22 he was convicted of a drug crime and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, he said.
In prison, he quickly discovered that he had a talent for drawing and he begin making paños, a classic form of prison art consisting of intricate drawings done on handkerchiefs, he said.
“It was a pastime, but also something I really started developing a love and a passion for. So I just kept drawing and drawing and it grew and grew,” Martinez said.
Then he was put into solitary confinement for six months, and he discovered that drawing was a powerful means of escape, spending countless hours practicing and honing his craft, he said.
Eventually, people began to notice how good his art was, and started asking if he would give them tattoos, he said.
Tattooing in jail is a unique skill, and Martinez quickly learned the techniques, building his first tattoo machines out of motors taken out of radios and sharpened guitar strings, and making his own ink from soot and baby oil, he said.
“I started out with fine line black-and-grey prison style, a style that has a lot of history. It was born behind bars, and it spilled out onto the streets and is really popular now, and it revolutionized tattoo art,” Martinez said.
Martinez was eventually moved to a prison in Pennsylvania, where he was introduced to fine art and painting by another inmate, Hendrick Gil, who began mentoring him and teaching him the craft of painting, he said.
He also began devouring every book on art that he could get his hands on, learning the history and techniques of past masters from all different styles, he said.
“I do a little bit of everything, all styles. Whatever challenges me or takes me to a new place, it’s all about the art and growing as an artist, so I love new challenges and styles,” Martinez said.
Soon painting became Martinez’s main outlet, and he decided that he wanted to try his hand at becoming a professional artist when he was released, he said.
He was set free in 2010, and by then he had created an entire series of paintings titled “Conviction,” based on his time in prison, he said.
He got a few paintings into his first gallery show, and one of them, a self-portrait titled “The Passion of Christo,” was purchased and eventually displayed at the Albuquerque Museum, he said.
Since then, Martinez has made a successful career as a tattoo artist and painter, tattooing full time at Factory Edge in Coronado Mall, and he is currently working on designs for a new clothing line, he said.
Martinez said he has also been involved in outreach work for prisoners and kids in the juvenile justice system, showing them that art, culture and creativity can be a way out of a life of crime, drug abuse and prison.
“Being able to give back and share the art and my experiences, especially with the youth, is important to me because I lost my brother, and me and a lot of friends; we’ve been through a lot, so if I can inspire and plant some seeds, it means a lot to me,” Martinez said.
For more information on the art of Eric Christo Martinez, visit ericchristoart. zenfolio.com.