Born Into the Arts
In the year 2000, Yuri Martínez bid farewell to his homeland of Cuba, yet the essence of Cuba remains indelibly etched within his artworks. Demonstrating exceptional technical prowess, Yuri Martinez’s figurative oil paintings on canvas offer a glimpse into Cuban society. Within these pieces, the hues of the tropical sun intermingle with the shades of a decaying system, giving birth to a surreal magical-realism. Here, dreams, fantasies, and frustrations converge, taking center stage as the protagonists of a captivating drama.
Drawing comparisons to luminaries like Chagall for his fusion of cubism and surrealism, and to Botero for his use of expressive visages and satirical social commentary, Martínez’s style is undeniably his own. Born in 1964 in Havana, Cuba, Yuri Martínez Ramos entered a family lineage of artists. Renowned illustrator and graphic designer René Martínez Sopeña, his father, contributed his artistic genes, while uncles Sergio and Hector Martínez carved their names as accomplished sculptors.
Martínez’s artistic rivalry with his elder brother, René, was nurtured in the hours spent striving to outshine each other’s creations. After graduating from the National School of Art in 1983, Yuri Martínez’s formal education encompassed painting, drawing, sculpting, and design. These skills found application as he took on roles as an illustrator and graphic designer at the Ministry of Education in Havana. Simultaneously, he painted and sold his works at the renowned Cathedral Square.
Yet, by 1993, Martínez had embarked on a journey of personal artistic development. This marked the pivotal moment when he devoted himself entirely to a career in fine art. Yuri Martínez crafts distinct textures using layers of oil on canvas, employing a method akin to watercolorists, coaxing light to emerge and dance through the background. These textures infuse his enchanting visuals, where irony and sarcasm weave a narrative of individuals seeking refuge from a beleaguered system. Whether in daydreams, memories, music, or through connections with loved ones, these escapes are vividly portrayed. Sometimes, the escape takes literal flight, characters soaring away aided by fantastical contraptions—an affectionate nod to the resilient creativity intrinsic to the Cuban spirit. This creativity flourishes within the constraints of a reality where survival is a daily battle.
Yuri Martínez’s inaugural solo exhibition in Los Angeles, aptly titled “Dream of the Distance,” graced the Papillon Gallery in 1998. This event unfolded against the backdrop of the Elian Gonzalez controversy. Amid special considerations granted by both the US Department of Justice and the State Department, as well as Cuban authorities, Martínez, along with his wife and young son, set foot on American soil in 2000. For him, this marked the pinnacle of a lifelong aspiration—to pursue his artistic calling beyond the confines of Cuba.
Since that significant juncture, Yuri Martínez has curated numerous solo exhibitions and participated in collective showcases across major American cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Texas, and Miami. His evocative pieces have also found a home at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.
Martínez’s masterpieces grace collections around the globe, from Germany, Spain, and Puerto Rico to Chile, Mexico, and Panamá. Within the United States, his works find pride of place in cities like Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Texas, and San Francisco. Notably, illustrious figures like Academy Award winners and Hollywood luminaries Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Priestley, and Patrick Dempsey count themselves as custodians of his sizable collections.
Yuri Martínez’s canvases transcend time and space, capturing the essence of Cuba’s past, present, and dreams of a brighter future. With each stroke, he paints a vivid narrative that speaks to the heart of a nation and resonates across borders.