This artist's canvass is his own body.
As a material culturalist, the conversations I have with artists are usually about how they use tools to change one thing into something else.
Aaron Howard turned a railroad spike into a bottle opener, Erica Quoivinan and Neil Brownsword both turned found objects into fine art. But what happens when the object and the tool are inseparable?
I’m not trying to blow your minds. I’m trying to get at a conversation about what happens when we objectify our selves. How far would an artist go to create perfection?
Victor Martinez is a professional body builder. His answer to the previous question is: far beyond human possibilities.
“Before I started, I did not care about my body," Martinez says. "I didn’t care about feeding my body. I really had no connection to my body.”
It was about a year ago that I found myself stumbling down Madison’s State Street in an object studies stupor. I’d just discovered Material Culture studies and everything I saw was subject to my new vision. Martinez was standing outside of a nutritional supplement store handing out autographed photos.
“It started first off when I was of course a teenager; when most of the realization of physiques and size kind of come to a realization that you’re not as big," he recalls. "I actually still remember being slim, a little nimble, very agile. I mean I could run for days, I was very flexible and I carried my weight much easier."
Martinez is so big he has to turn sideways to get through the door. His thighs are so massive, he can’t put one foot in front of the other causing him to shuffle instead of walk. His movements are mechanical and far from agile. He doesn’t look real and according to Martinez, that was the goal.
"I derive everything from when I used to draw as an artist, from drawing Marvel Comics, from watching wrestling, from watching body building," he says, "and I visualized it and took it in first as an art.”
Martinez says he saw his body as a blank canvas, as a thing to be shaped and molded into his notion of perfection. In order to get to the truth of their works, and artist needs to have a connection with their materials. To reach his goals, Martinez struggled with forming a mind body connection.
"This thing of actually becoming bigger, becoming stronger, becoming a body builder brought me closer to my body," he says. "Because it gave me that sense of now I have to know my body. I have to understand it; I have to pay more attention to it. So, now I new I had to feed it. I knew I had to see where my body is at the moment. I knew where I had to bring it to later on to achieve my goals. Getting closer to my body was the only way I knew was the only way to reach my goal of becoming a body builder.”
Martinez hit the amateur circuit in 1995 and won his first title in 1997. He went pro in 2001, won a slew of competitions earning the name the "Dominican Dominator." During my conversation with Martinez, his manager stood within earshot. When I asked how Martinez got so big, the manager turned to face me. The look in his eyes said, "Don’t ask."
Turns out I didn’t have to. A web search leads to a number of articles tying Martinez to steroids since 2003. Martinez is massive. I can’t help but plot escape routes should he suddenly loose it and "Hulk out."
"That’s actually the first visualization that people do get: they see this big person just kind of looking big and strong and dangerous," Martinez says. "Now if I do notice somebody that noticing how big I am and how intimidating I am, all I can say is, 'Hi, how are you?' I have never just started for no reason, for no intention at all, started judging anybody just based on the physique they already have. As an athlete, you do that from one athlete to another. As a everyday person walking the street looking at another person, it really never comes to mind at all.”
It’s been almost a year since I spoke to Martinez. Since then he spent months in a New Jersey detention center for an immigration violation, further complicated by a criminal record in connection with steroids. He was released in April and allowed to remain in the U.S. Online Muscle Magazine articles claim that Martinez was unable to maintain his physique while detained.
Contributor Gianofer Fields studies material culture at UW-Madison and the curator of "It's a Material World" - that project is funded by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.
The music featured in this piece is by "Bumpin'" by Wes Montgomery.