Edgar Zarate Martinez pours life onto his canvas
to show respect for his family and culture
Painting and drawing are keys to inner freedom for San Quentin artist Edgar Zarate Martinez, activities that dispel darkness. He literally brushes away the negative thoughts and feelings that can threaten to consume people in prison.
The artist’s Mexican heritage has a dominant place in his work. An example is the Catrina he created for his mother and dedicated to the memory of his grandmother, who has passed away.
Catrina is the affectionate name given to a woman dressed up as a female character to celebrate the Day of the Dead.
“As [a] Mexican, it is part of my culture, and in my country the dead [are] celebrated to honor our loved ones that have passed away,” said Martinez.
“My grandma just passed away last year and I couldn’t be there at her funeral,” he said. “I didn’t get to see my grandma at all since I was 3 years old. That was the last time I got to see her.”
Martinez muses that he was never able to be with his grandmother during his own adult life. But in the creation of the Catrina, he is expressing his imagination of what she may have been like — a woman who loved flowers.
The Catrina the artist created is in masquerade, with the traditional facial designs, smelling a rose in front of her in a quest to find peace in the afterlife. She wears a Charra, the traditional hat of the Mexican mariachi performer.
The Charra bears his mother’s name, Maria. He will be sending the painting to her. He wants his mother to know that he will always remember and cherish his grandmother.
Martinez reflects on the beauty of his culture. Works like the Catrina are a means to honor and keep his cultural heritage alive.
He says art has no limits. He has drawn and painted on a variety of topics in various styles.
Another piece he painted is for his brother, a retired U.S. Army sergeant, he titled Mi Vida (My Life). Martinez admires his brother who, although younger than the artist, is strong and responsible.
It portrays a masked wrester who represents the struggles of life, the adversity his brother faced and overcame. Many of those were the same obstacles faced by the artist. Martinez honors his brother’s courage and perseverance with the painting.
The camouflage style in the work acknowledges his brother’s military experience.
“All the colors in this painting represent the moments of life that are being thrown at you — the good and the bad ones,” said Martinez.