CSU art student Saxon Martinez utilizes sculptures to express experiences with racism

Sarah Ehrlich

A Colorado State University student is taking the idea of artistic expression to a new level. 

a man poses next to piece of art work
Construction materials are not just made for labor, Saxon Martinez emphasizes. For his current assignment, he is using materials such as concrete, wood, and foam installation boards. These materials can be made into art, and Martinez plans to use them as such, depicting his Latino heritage and the stereotypes that come with it. Here, Martinez poses with the beginning stages of his installation set up. (Sarah Ehrlich | Collegian)

After eight years as a U.S. Marine, Saxon Martinez came to CSU to pursue biomedical science. Now, he’s a student in the art and art history departments, and he is known for creating installations depicting what he goes through as a minoritized person.

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Martinez said he transitioned well into CSU because of the responsibilities he had in the military, where he learned to stay focused mentally and physically in even the direst of situations. 

“If you want to be successful, you need to put in the effort,” Martinez said. “That mindset transferred here. I know I have a job to do, and I’m seeking out ways to make myself more successful as an artist.”

Martinez is currently working towards being an installation artist. Martinez will build various sculptures between eight and 12 feet tall, expressing an idea or an event that is personally related to him and his culture. 

“When you create something out of the ordinary that’s bigger than you, it requires a little more attention,” Martinez said. “What I love about the art department and their professors, is that if you do A, B and C, you have room to do whatever else.”

The CSU Visual Arts Building has made it easy for students to pursue projects, with tons of workspace, machines and faculty who are passionate about the student’s project.

“We have a lot of inequality on the side of gender and sexual preferences, so it’s like, are we really going to worry about skin color right now? -Saxon Martinez, CSU art student

“Professors here encourage students to take risks, even up to the point of possible failure,” said artist and drawing instructor Eleanor Sabin. “But that’s a very productive zone for artists, especially professionals, so it is good to get that practice and feeling down as a student.”

The Art Department has taken steps in renovating the Visual Arts Building to put student’s work at the forefront. New display cases have helped with the department’s accreditation but have also encouraged more people to take a look at student work. 

More of Martinez’s work can be found on his Instagram, @martinez_s_f. 

“A few years ago, you didn’t see as much work, just posters that had nothing really to do with the department,” Suzanne Faris, the art and art history department chair, said. ” We’re trying to minimize that so that more people can see what our students make because it really is amazing.”

The current installation assignment Martinez is working entitled “Study 1” focuses on Mesoamerican cultures and how he can derive himself from that culture but also make it accessible and not exclude people.

“I work with a concept, a very simple idea,” Martinez said. “With this current project, I’m thinking about my heritage and how to expand on it. I’m thinking about different colors and materials. I can talk to faculty and students and just keep creating and building it.”

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These cutouts are from a previous installation, which represent Martinez and his family, and you will notice a color and size difference in the wood. This represents the racism Martinez has faced and what he hopes will be the end of it. “I still have these ‘marks’ from actions that have happened to me in recent years, and I am hoping my family doesn’t have to experience it,” Martinez said. (Sarah Ehrlich | Collegian)

As the 3D Foundations lab manager, Martinez has access to special areas in the Visual Arts Building where he can keep his larger work. Being an installation artist means lots of setting up and tearing down shows, sometimes with little time to spare.

Martinez said it is great to make art; however, money is always needed to make more art, so it is always a positive when artist’s work is sold at a show. For Martinez, CSU has given him many opportunities for showing his work and adding to his resume. The goal is to get shows in galleries that are off campus, which equals more recognition and future gigs.

Through his art and getting more shows off campus, Martinez hopes to show more people the type of racism he encounters. In Colorado, Martinez said he has noticed people treating his family differently than the other places they have lived. Martinez said people will stare, grab their purses or even refuse to serve him and his family.

“We have a lot of inequality on the side of gender and sexual preferences, so it’s like are we really going to worry about skin color right now?” said Martinez. “I understand we are all different, so why don’t we work to create a dialogue that unifies rather than break us apart?”

Collegian reporter Sarah Ehrlich can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @sarahehrlich96.