More than a decade after he first painted it in Clarion Alley, Jet Martinez gets plaudits from people who see Lo Llevas Por Dentro (You Carry It Inside of You) and say that it speaks to them — and to the current national debates about immigration and “illegal aliens” and the politics of borders.
The beautiful desert in Martinez’ work — festooned with turquoise trees, red grass, and green cactus — seems like an idealized fill-in for the territory that stretches along the U.S.-Mexican border. And the silhouetted figure, whose body reveals an urban street, seems like an idealized figure whose identity is both situated in the desert and in the city. He’s borderless.
Martinez painted Lo Llevas Por Dentro (You Carry It Inside of You) in 2004.
“I was trying to get into identity pieces, and that’s a piece from a larger series,” Martinez tells SF Weekly. “The person in the mural is a real person, and inside is a landscape of wherever the person comes from. In that particular one, it’s a dude who’s actually from Mexico — but he’s been living in [a building on] the alley for years. It was my way to talk about the fact that everyone brings where they come from with them. Also, with the super psychedelic background, it’s this idea of a magical world, and we’re filled with the human construct that we bring with us. We’re in it, but we’re not necessarily connected.”
As much Lo Llevas Por Dentro (You Carry It Inside) still draws attention — last year, a publisher asked to use the work on a book cover — Martinez no longer makes that kind of identity-themed mural because of the time and the “intensity” that’s required. He managed Clarion Alley from 2004 to about 2013, putting a special anti-graffiti coating on Lo Llevas Por Dentro (You Carry It Inside).
“I worked on that piece for four months — and I mean worked on it, like 30 hours a week,” Martinez, 43 and an Oakland resident, says. “At the time, I was really trying to cut my teeth with murals, and everyone kept telling me not to do complex stuff, and I thought, ‘If everyone is not doing complex work, I’m going to do complex work on the street.’ It was a learning piece, because that kind of work is not good for business as far as production. You can’t really devote four months of work to a 4-foot-by-12-foot painting.”
Martinez laughs as he says that. He has since painted murals all around San Francisco and the Bay Area, so Lo Llevas Por Dentro (You Carry It Inside) is a piece that also holds up for its role in Martinez’s artistic career.
“I’ve simplified my work a lot,” he says. “It’s a good touch point for me. My ideas about identity and belonging have also shifted as I’ve gotten older. It reminds me of a certain age in my career when I was taking myself and my work very seriously — and for good reasons. It gave me good momentum to where I am now.”