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Article: We Are Oaklandish: Jet Martinez

featured artist Jet Martinez, Bay Area Artist & Muralist, sitting with hat on, in front of example of his art

We Are Oaklandish: Jet Martinez

What do you think makes Oakland unique?

Oakland is not one thing to all its people. To some, it is the core of their identity. In contrast, to other people, Oakland is brimming with potential opportunities. Oakland wants to share, but the Town will not let one simply take.

Oakland does not give itself up easily. It unfolds and reveals itself to those who genuinely wish to know it.

Oakland is fresh walks in the redwoods. Oakland is underground party culture. Oakland is bikes, roller skates, and sideshows. Oakland is backyard get-togethers. Oakland is dangerously welcoming. Oakland is the multicolored face of America but unlike any other place in America.

Oakland is about struggle, but Oakland also offers solutions. Oakland’s grit is what polished its finesse.

Oakland imbues its citizens with a unique sense of pride born from the knowledge that that pride is hard-earned. To say you’re from Oakland, you have to be born (again) in Oakland.

To say you live in Oakland, nonetheless, gives one gravity and sense of identity that not many other places have.

Oakland offers its people the false sense that art is everywhere because Oakland drips with creativity.

But what makes Oakland unique to me? Oakland is home.

In what ways has your personal story been shaped by Oakland?

Oakland is the place where I truly felt I put down roots. My children have grown up in Oakland, so by default, I've also grown up in Oakland.

I moved to the Bay Area in 1997 and lived In SF, where I first created a sense of community. However, when I moved to Oakland with my family, that is when I came to understand the Bay Area. In Oakland, I have developed a more profound sense of the history and culture of this place.  

I grew up in various environments and cultures. In many ways, that idea of true multiculturalism is reflected in the place and the people of Oakland.

Oakland has given me a sense of humility paired with a strong sense of pride. The humility comes from knowing that even though I’ve been here for decades, I still have much to learn about this place. The pride comes from knowing that I have made a mark, no matter how small.

What was your experience moving to Oakland? How has that impacted your life and art?

Honestly, moving to Oakland wasn't easy. I could feel The Town's whole beating heart, but I also felt secluded at home with my babies. I found it difficult to access the creative community in the city.

Oakland did not offer itself up to me very quickly or easily. I had to pound the pavement and put effort into making connections. I had to show and prove that my intentions were in the right place and that my skills were legit. 

With my art, in particular, it has taken a lot of work behind the scenes to make meaningful connections and to get real projects going. But as I have spent more and more time working on the streets of our fair city and sharing with other artists in our community, Oakland has given me a lot of love back.  

This has been an important lesson: love is not given; it is earned.

In Oakland, our creativity is not simply entertainment or decoration; it's food for our culture and is essential to our well-being and sense of identity. Being a part of that has helped me gain a much deeper understanding of the role that art and creativity play in our larger society and my personal life. 

Your art explores the relationships inherent in community and culture. How has Oakland informed your interpretation and representation of these relationships? 

I am interested in folk art's role in culture and societies, specifically Mexican culture. In Mexico, hundreds of small towns support vibrant communities of folk artists creating crafts with little obvious functional or economic value.  

Objects like beaded wood sculptures, paintings of birds and flowers on bark paper, yarn paintings, or painted plates, to name a few. While these objects seem to hold no purpose other than decoration, when considered together, they form a comprehensive visual identity and culture for Mexico. 

Over time, I have traveled and realized that this exact scenario repeats worldwide. It got me thinking, "What is our Bay Area equivalent to these folk art forms? What is our equivalent to this mode of making that creates and represents the larger overall culture?" In my opinion, our mural and graffiti culture are highly analogous to this mode of making. 

When graffiti is regarded as art by the people created for the people, our urban murals take on a more profound significance. Oakland's murals and graffiti are a unique gift that sets us apart from every other place on the planet.

Many places have murals and graffiti, but none embraces this artform like Oakland does. Oakland is one of the few places where you don't have to explain the value of local folk art to the local community. There aren't many places where murals and graffiti are integral to the urban tapestry.

In Oakland, we love and support this work in an essential way. It isn't simply entertainment. Our murals and graffiti represent our lives. They document us. They inform us. They nourish and inspire us. They are a daily reminder that we are leaving a mark now so that the future will remember that we cared about this place.

Describe how it feels to bring urban walls alive with color and art.

For me, color and art are the byproducts of something more substantial. They are crucial elements in creating with intentionality in a public space. It feels indescribably great to bring visions of the heart and mind to the real world. However, what feels most remarkable is the knowledge that you are generating a vibration of creativity into a community and creating a world that encourages people to be positive and engaged. 

Not all my work is a visual success. Still, a great majority of my work succeeds in helping me feel like a viable member of my community. Like I have something positive to offer. This is the most redeeming reward for the thousands of hours I have dedicated to my craft. Seeing traces of work I have done in the past reminds me that I have been here trying for some time now. It shows me how I have grown in some ways and how I have forgotten some things I used to know. 

My work reminds me that there is no straight line to a life's path. I am incredibly grateful for the communities that have invited me in and welcomed my art, but none more than my hometown of Oakland.

 

closeup of Jet Martinez while painting, tattooed arm, paintbrush
artist outside in front of work in progress on wall
artist on scaffolding, painting on wall in green paints
creamsicle drawing of curves in pattern
comopleted wall mural on side of building - calla liliies in beige and cream

***

Oakland is diverse and Oakland is proud. 'We Are Oaklandish' is a storytelling project created to highlight just that.

These are stories that shed light on the different experiences, memories, and opinions of the people in the city we all love. They are people who give our city its oddball spirit, its passion for justice, and its creative vigor. They lift us up with laughter, peace, nourishment, and authentic hard work.

They make us proud to call this town our home. They are Oaklandish.

Shop the collection: Jet Martinez

Read more: We Are Oaklandish

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