When I visited Noelle Martinez at her studio recently, she immediately explained to me that she’s moving into a larger space by the end of the week. From the looks of it, it couldn’t come a day sooner. She’s been working endlessly on new pieces for an upcoming show, which have been stacked on top of one another after taking up what little wall space is available.
Her work has found its way into quite a few galleries and storefronts in Phoenix, namely U.L.M. Studios, The Lab 137, and Hair Pollution (formerly Way Cool Hair). She was even a part of “The Artcade Show”, March’s blowout event at Parazol Studios where 25 vintage arcade machines with artist decorated panels were available for free play.
For the 23-year-old, moving studios isn’t the only big change coming to her career. This Friday, Palabra Collective is hosting “I Just Woke Up” during April’s First Friday event. Martinez considers it to be her first real solo exhibition.
“I’ve just been in a lot of group shows,” she explains, maintaining that even though some of the aforementioned exhibitions might have been considered solo, she’s internally approaching this next one with an added sense of purpose.
It’s another personal milestone at a time when her surroundings and plans are rapidly changing. In the next few months, Martinez will be graduating from the arts program at Phoenix College, an important step in her transformation as a full-time artist.
The title and subject matter for the show was inspired by a traumatic event that occurred when Martinez was in the seventh grade. Still a bit shaky on the details, a concussion landed her in the hospital and erased her short term memory for a period of time. Upon awakening after the head injury, her family says the only words she would utter were, “I just woke up”.
The experience frightened her and her family to such as extent that this phrase stuck with Martinez even until now, becoming a sort of mantra for self-realization and awareness– both concepts that permeate the bold and colorful nature of her artwork.
“It kind of became hard because I was trying to remember things that I had no idea of, and I can’t go back and recreate them or try to make something out of nothing,” says Martinez.
The work is filled with inferences of heavy blasts and the frightened expressions of someone who has just woken from a terrifying dream, much like panels of a Roy Lichtenstein comic strip, who she cites as an influence.
“I just went off the idea of waking up . . waking calls . . . awakenings, that moment where everything just makes sense.”
With graduation looming only a few months away, Martinez admits she isn’t sure what the near-term future holds, although she is looking into graduate programs. What is for sure, however, is that exciting times lay ahead for this artist with the opening at Palabra and the transition into a new workspace. She smiles, seemingly still in disbelief when she tells me that she quit her steady day job at a grocers to commit herself fully to art.
“I’m really doing it. I threw off my work shoes and hung them up, so I come in here every day to see them and know there’s no turning back,” Martinez exclaims.
She then points above me to a pair of shoes tied at the laces, hanging from the ceiling of her studio dozens of feet high in a defiant display of confidence. From the way things are going, I don’t think she’ll be needing them any time soon.