Canvases in different stages of completion fill the studio.


As someone who’s lived in New Mexico for more than 25 years, Kiki Martinez considers herself a “Westerner” and feels this identity appears in her art. Her home and studio are located near Santa Fe in a pine forest, and she loves waking up to watch the sunlight slowly appear on the mountain while she sips her coffee, her two dogs at her feet. “It’s sort of a meditation hour before I set off up to my studio,” Martinez says.

Artist Kiki Martinez is inspired when her studio supplies are spread out instead of tucked away, allowing her to grab a paintbrush and go to work instead of procrastinating by organizing supplies.

These days, she paints in a studio that’s separate from her home, located up a hill. “Studios are not easy to come by in this town,” she says, “especially in such a beautiful setting as I have. I find having a studio separate from the house allows me to leave the daily distractions of home life behind and go off to work.”

Martinez uses various-sized brushes to create different shapes and textures. She replaces the brushes regularly because the mediums she uses wear them down.

Martinez graduated with degrees in graphic arts and economics from Smith College, and both areas of study have served her. Her first job was working for a master printer in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, which was challenging work for little pay. Her consolation was meeting “a few well-known artists,” and she was introduced to the New York art scene.

After seeing her friends attain success in finance, Martinez turned to brokering commodities. Her economics degree paid off, and she was able to move from Manhattan to the Hamptons, where she thought she would get back into her art, something she’d been doing since childhood. “Turned out, I had way more fun sailing and partying with my friends than picking up my paintbrush,” Martinez says, adding that after five years of brokering, she decided it wasn’t for her.

When she moved to New Mexico, she began her artistic career in earnest. “This is when the work I do now all began. I had visited Santa Fe with my mom in the ’80s, and it spoke to me then; maybe it was destiny that I ended up here.”

“The studio is my sanctuary, and I enjoy filling it with my favorite
art books, photos, and mementos, including a table of fossils that my son and I found on hikes when he was young,” the artist says.

While growing up, Martinez always enjoyed the creative process. “My family encouraged me as a child to be creative, and I spent most of my time in my room painting, drawing, and making stuff. I was full of surprises when I appeared downstairs for dinnertime; once, I was adorned with jewelry made from tiny leftover ceramic tiles that I painted abstract designs on. The only time I wasn’t supported in my artistic efforts was when my mom found me furiously drawing all over my walls and furniture.”

To Martinez, applying the final touches to a completed work seems like a never-ending process.

Martinez’s first solo exhibit was at age 10 at a local bank, and her mother kept one of the pieces, a painting of a little boy in a cement tunnel. Years later, her mother saw a photograph Martinez had taken of her son playing in a tunnel at a children’s museum, and she sent the painting back to her daughter. “The photo looks exactly like the painting I did in the fourth grade,” says Martinez. “That’s pretty wild!”

Moving to the West was a tough transition after growing up and living in New York City, but Martinez attributes her inspiration and dedication as an oil painter to the slower lifestyle. “I missed my family, friends, and the ocean. I was used to a much faster-paced life, but I eventually settled into the slower, laid-back lifestyle of the West. I realized later that this was a very good thing,” she says.

Martinez works on many paintings at a time. No matter where she turns, there is something to work on or something that inspires her.

Martinez started painting horses while living on a small ranch in a valley north of Santa Fe with her husband, two palomino horses, and a Morgan horse. “I was so inspired to paint our horses, I started and have never looked back,” she says. Horses are still her primary subject, although she’s painted other large animals —  bulls, steers, cows, and elk — and for a time, she successfully painted skulls of African animals.

Her oil paintings are recognized for their translucent and monochromatic appearance, which comes from a limited palette. “My palette consists of just a couple of pigments made by certain companies that I like; they work well for my technique and process. I mix these colors together with a lot of medium. I apply the transparent colors layer by layer until I reach the desired shade,” she explains. 

Red Deer Skull is a part of the artist’s African animal series.

The tedious multilayering technique creates a translucency and reflectiveness that Martinez feels sets her work apart. Allowing each layer to dry at least 24 hours before applying the next results in a long process; sometimes, it takes a year to complete a painting. “I work on several at a time so that I’m always working on one while waiting for others to dry,” she says.

Martinez utilizes the white of the canvas for highlights and lighter areas in her paintings, applying sheer glazes to these areas and allowing the canvas to show through. This technique was influenced by her watercolor studies at college. Formal oil painting classes didn’t begin until Martinez attended the School for Visual Arts in New York City during summers when she was home from college. She says her graphic arts degree as well as her focus on lithography and serigraphy at Smith influenced her style of painting today.

Martinez feels content in her studio, nestled in Santa Fe’s mountains and surrounded by pine forests and wildlife. She sometimes hears coyotes howling as she works.

Martinez’ paintings are large; most of the canvases featuring horses are life-sized and some commission pieces are even larger. “It excites me to enter my studio and see the walls filled with large canvases to work on. I just don’t feel as inspired working on small paintings,” she says. “I believe the subject matter I paint lends itself well to painting on a large scale.”

She says this inspiration came from a trip she and a college friend took to Europe, during which they visited museums and Martinez became enamored with the huge canvases of the Old Masters painted in a chiaroscuro style. “My work tends to be monochromatic, with the subject set against a dark background,” she says. “I think my paintings look and feel Old World but can be contemporary at the same time.”

Geronimo Restaurant, on Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, showcases one of Martinez’s paintings.

Martinez’s work is equally at home in public establishments and residential settings. At the famous Geronimo Restaurant on Santa Fe’s renowned Canyon Road, her paintings of horses feel at home on the thick adobe walls of the 1756 structure. Her paintings are sold to collectors internationally but with a large presence in the Southwest.

Santa Fe Trails Fine Art represents Martinez and will have a solo show for her on December 6  in Santa Fe. She will also participate in the Santa Fe Studio Tour during the last two weekends in September.

WA&A senior contributing editor Shari Morrison has been in the business of art for more than 40 years. She helped found the Scottsdale Artists’ School and the American Women Artists and directed the Santa Fe Artists’ Medical Fund for some years.

Photographer Daniel Nadelbach is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His clients include Smithsonian, Whole Foods, Auberge Resorts, Head Sportswear, and Vogue Australia, among many others.

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