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Rich Martinez reflects on art, life in ‘ColorScapes’

There are Claremont roots, and then there are Claremont roots. Take for instance Richard Martinez.

His father arrived here a century ago, and worked for Pomona College, first unloading heating oil from incoming train cars, then later as mason and gardener. He eventually planted some of the early trees on campus, many of which remain today.

Those are some deep roots.

The prolific artist and longtime Claremont High School teacher Mr. Martinez, 78, is about to mount a retrospective of sorts. The solo show, “ColorScapes,” opens Friday, February 7 at Mt. San Antonio Gardens.

The show is a retrospective “of sorts,” because Mr. Martinez is certainly not calling it a day as an artist, and why would he? He still teaches an adult education ceramics class at Claremont High School one night a week, and, it’s clear he has the fire in his belly to create.

“I’ve shown all my life,” he said. “[The show] is at the retirement center there, in Claremont, and it’s a nice little retrospective show for me. Just basically, that’s it. I don’t know if I want to predict it’ll be my last. Let’s just not do that, because it’ll just tie myself up. Maybe I’ll have another show.”

Born “in the barrio,” of the Arbol Verde neighborhood of Claremont in 1941, he’s been making art all his life.

He attended Sycamore Elementary School, Oakmont, and the Old Schoolhouse version of Claremont High, graduating in 1959. His art talent stood out even then.

“I received a full ride scholarship to Chouinard Art Institute on a national award from Bullocks department store contest for an ink drawing I did,” Mr. Martinez said. The prestigious Chouinard would later merge with the LA Conservatory of Music and become the California Institute of the Arts.

Like a lot of college freshmen, he had a rocky start and stayed just one year. He went on to Mt. San Antonio College for an associate’s degree, and then to California State University, Los Angeles for a bachelor’s in fine arts.

In 1968 he took a job teaching art and coaching track at Claremont High. He eventually earned a master’s degree in art education from at Claremont Graduate School (now CGU). He remained at CHS for 36 years, along the way becoming an institution.

Although he was active throughout his working life, with shows at the old Griswold’s cellar, Padua Hills Theater, the chamber of commerce, Nick’s, and the old Village Theater (where he had worked during his high school years), among other spots, it wasn’t until he retired in 2006 that he really had the time to concentrate on painting.

Today his work is ubiquitous around the region. It hangs throughout the Colleges, at the Claremont Unified School District offices, and in the permanent collection at the Chaffey Community Museum of Art in Ontario.

“Someone told me I have a painting hanging between Millard Sheets and Milford Zornes,” at CCMA, Mr. Martinez said, “and they were both good friends of mine in the past, you know.”

He was always busy, even while teaching. He did art demonstrations at the LA County Fair’s Millard Sheets Art Gallery for 10 years, and was always creating.

“Basically I’ve been showing in Claremont since I was a kid,” Mr. Martinez said. “Milford [Zornes] and I used to paint together. We have a long background together, working with each other at Vortox when I was working my through college.”

The changes he’s seen are too numerous to recount. “I grew up with citrus trees all around me,” Mr. Martinez recalled. “It was very rural. As a kid we used to raise chickens and rabbits. I came from a large family of ten. My dad passed [of cancer, when he was three] and I never knew him, so we all had to go out and work.”

His father owned a successful meat market in the doomed Chavez Ravine neighborhood of Los Angeles before marrying Mr. Martinez’s mother in 1920 and moving to Claremont.

The senior Martinez, along with planting those trees at Pomona College, also helped construct some of the iconic river rock homes in the Russian Village neighborhood of eastern Claremont, and the Pump House in north Claremont. Those roots...

With “ColorScapes,” Mr. Martinez will be showing some of his prized work from his travels to Indonesia, as well as early drawings from his high school days in the 1950s. He has about 20 paintings ready, and some pottery, but space limitations will dictate how many pieces will be displayed.

“It is a retrospective of my favorites and paintings that have won awards,” Mr. Martinez said. “I’ve sold some, of course, I don’t have them all, but I’ll have some of my favorites.”

With some exceptions, making art is one of those rare avocations—or obsessions—one can pursue for a lifetime. With Mr. Martinez approaching his ninth decade, we can only hope he has much more to say.

“I wanted to make this a special show, because between you and me and the wall, I’m too old to be having one-man shows,” Mr. Martinez said. “It’s a lot of trouble for me. So, as far as I’m concerned, I’m calling this my last one-man show.”

The opening reception for ColorScapes takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, February 7 at Mt. San Antonio Gardens Social Center, 900 E. Harrison Ave. It will be up through early April. More information is at www.msagardens.org, (909) 624-5061, or via email to info@msagardens.org.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

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