Artist Profile

Born Into the Arts

Yuri Martínez left Cuba in 2000. Yet, Cuba continues to inhabit his paintings. Manifesting a superb technical mastery, Yuri Martinez’s figurative oils on canvas reveal a Cuban society where the tint of the tropical sun and the tones of a decadent system combine to create a surreal magical-realism where dreams, fantasies, and frustration play together as the leading actor on a stage. Martínez has been compared to Chagall in his blend of cubism and surrealism, and Botero in his use of expressive faces and satirical social commentary, but his style remains uniquely his own. Yuri Martínez Ramos was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1964, into a family of artists. His father, René Martínez Sopeña, was a renowned illustrator and graphic designer and for many years works for the Cuban National Scientific Academy, his uncles Sergio and Hector Martínez were well-known sculptors. Martínez and his older brother, René, would spend countless hours engaged in artistic sibling rivalry, seeing who could out-draw the other. Graduating from the National School of Art in 1983, Yuri Martinez’s academic background encompassed painting, drawing, sculpting, and designing. He put some of these skills to work as the illustrator and graphic designer at the Ministry of Education in Havana while also painting and selling works in the famed Cathedral Square.

But by 1993, Martínez had begun developing and refining what would become his style, and it was at this point that he decided to turn his attention entirely to a fine art career. Yuri Martínez creates unique painterly textures achieved by layering oil on canvas-indirect painting- as a watercolorist would, letting the light emerges and shimmers through the background. These textures enrich the environment of his magical images where the ironic/sarcastic message is the depiction of people seeking escape from a deplorable system, whether that escape is in daydreams, memories, music, or a lover. Sometimes escaping depicted is more literal, with characters flying away, often employing fantastic gadgets- an affectionate nod to the makeshift yet determined creativity of the Cuban character. The creativity that exists within the confines of a reality where surviving is part of everyday living.

Yuri Martínez arrived in Los Angeles for his first successful solo exhibition named “Dream of the Distant” at Papillon Gallery in Los Angeles in 1998. In the shadow of the Elian Gonzalez affair, Martínez was granted special status by the US Department of Justice and the State Department and by Cuban authorities, and in 2000 he arrived on US soil with his wife and young son. For Yuri Martínez, it was a culmination of a lifelong dream to pursue his artistic career outside of Cuba. Since that time, Yuri Martínez has staged several solo exhibitions and has participated in group shows in Los Angeles, New York, Texas, Miami, among other cities in the United States. His work has also been exhibited at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.

Martínez’s paintings are displayed in collections around the world in Germany, Spain, Puerto Rico, Chile, Mexico, and Panamá. Around the United States, in several cities as Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Texas, and San Francisco, include sizable collections by Academy Award winners and Hollywood movie stars like Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Priestley, and Patrick Dempsey.