WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — When fruit boxes stack up at markets, most people see trash or, at best, recyclable material.
Artist Narsiso Martinez sees more than that, so rather than stick them in a blue bin, he uses them as a canvas to create artwork.
“I paint on fruit boxes because I feel like, when I draw, it’s sort of a conversation between the farm workers and the agribusiness,” said Martinez. “All the labels represent the agribusiness and the farmworkers represent the people who pick the fruit.”
It’s a process Martinez started while taking time off from art school, when he went back to work on a farm to raise money for tuition.
“For me, it’s just a way of saying what happens when you bring the two together in the same space,” said Martinez.
Martinez immigrated to Los Angeles from Oaxaca, Mexico at the age of 20. Despite having only an 8th-grade education, he wanted to finish school and took odd jobs to support himself, busing tables and working on farms. With a background in manual labor, Martinez found courage and integrity in his co-workers, a theme he often portrays in his artwork.
“When I first fell in love with art and decided to go to art school, I took inspiration from artists such as Van Gogh and Millet, especially when I saw their paintings about the peasantry and the so-called 'lower classes,'” said Martinez. “I really wanted to continue with that tradition.”
Having worked on farms in both Mexico and America, Martinez's perspective on the condition of farm workers is both personal and professional. Despite being one of the few on the farm that can speak English, he realized the need to speak up in times of injustice, but realized his art could transcend language.
“These people are literally the people that pick our food, the food that we consume every day,” said Martinez. “I want to bring them a little bit out of the shadows.”
Martinez’s work has been exhibited at the Long Beach Museum of Art and Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown. His latest and largest work is on a billboard in West Hollywood. A guest artist in an open-air large format outdoor exhibition, he’s one of 30 artists being featured on 30 billboards throughout LA in a project from The Billboard Creative.
“Having this community represented on a billboard gives us inclusivity and acceptance and the fact that we are also participants of this community as immigrants, as farmworkers,” said Martinez. “In general, as human beings.”