Growing Up Monstrochika: One on One with Chicago Street Artist and Illustrator Naomi Martinez
A femme feline whisks by on a skateboard. Monsters gather below. A shy fox-girl gazes wistfully off in the distance. This vibrant, colorful urban take on Maurice Sendak comes courtesy of Naomi Martinez, better known as Monstrochika. Martinez’s images invoke a mix of girl power femininity with the giddy excitement of Saturday morning cartoons.
Like many modern urban scale artists, Martinez’s palate is stark: neon greens, deep purples, dark blues. It is the perfect color scheme to complement her trademark characters. Whereas many use street art to provoke socially or politically, Martinez aims instead to portray a raw, childlike joy through her work. This evokes a whole new level of honesty, one that is all-embracing rather than alienating or shocking.
Martinez grew up in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. There, she gained high exposure to the vivid colors and raw energy of classic ‘80s and ‘90s street art in the area. However, she notes that it tended to fade into the background with other graffiti.
It wasn’t until she was a teenager that it all came together. “Something just clicked,” she said. “I realized that someone actually took the time to claim the space and create the original art.” She began to notice that many of the original artists possessed great skill and technique to paint so precisely. Inspired, she began first by integrating some of the styles she admired, and, as her talent developed, adding her own flair.
Martinez’s next hurdle was a lack of contacts in the trade. “There were not many local female artists to look up to or aspire to be,” she explained. One reason for this, she said, was that the scene is dominated by a machismo culture in which a female is more likely to be flirted with than to be given paint or space. But Martinez refused to back down. “I wanted to be more than just a name on the wall drawn by my boyfriend,” she admitted. “I wanted to put my own name up there.”
Still determined to pursue art in her life, Martinez worked on her craft and was eventually accepted into Columbia College, an influential art school that has produced many rising classical and modern artists. Martinez, unfortunately, was not one of those artists. She had trouble focusing her talents and struggled to find her place among the students. Finally determining that the art program wasn’t giving her what she needed, she left her traditional art school and went back to her roots in mural and street arts.
Making a Space for Urban, Female Artists
During her exploration of her artistic roots, Martinez came across Synergy, a female collective of artists and dancers based on the south side of Chicago. The group welcomed her, particularly for her love of illustration, watercolors, and drawings, helping prepare her for a life as an independent artist. As she learned from Synergy and worked on her talent, she also began a series of collaborations on walls in cities throughout the United States, further enriching her art.
Most recently, she painted along Venice Beach’s famous walls. She was inspired by the open community that promoted art and encouraged talented individuals to beautify the local space. Like many street artists in Chicago, she hopes that this openness for art may make its way back to her home city.
“Chicago itself is always growing and changing,” Martinez said, noting that street art that was once seen as a nuisance has become valued and protected. As more famous muralists show their work around the city, she believes that more opportunity for off-the-grid artists like herself will allow her community to gain traction. She especially sees this as an opening for Chicago females who would like to be a part of a male-dominated community.
A Big and Bright Future
Today, when she is not traveling or working on her solo shows, Martinez brings her talents to others in her community. Working with Elavarte Studio in the Pilsen neighborhood, Martinez teaches fabric art, including dollmaking, to a community where art is less readily available.
As a teacher, she hopes that her young students walk away from her courses with something she never got to experience at a young age: self-confidence. The ability to create and experience originality inspires her to be a student herself as she looks to expand her crafts in to sculpting.
When asked if she had any advice for new or emerging street artists or muralists, Martinez goes back to the idea of mentors. She urges artists to find their place in the artistic community by networking, joining groups, and getting to know artists in similar genres. Sharing space and leads on walls has opened up many opportunities for her to collaborate and expand her talents.
Being humble and gracious towards other artists and patient with herself and her talents has gotten Naomi Martinez to where she wants to be artistically today. From her early starts as a wanting to write her own name on the walls to today’s artist who has shown nationally, Martinez strives to continue bringing happiness and energy to her community.
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