Edward Martinez admits that when he was a boy growing up in Newark, N.J., the inside of his bedroom closet may not have been the best place to begin experimenting with graffiti. But the experience lit a spark. “It was like magic,” the artist remembers. “For me, graffiti art was the vehicle to give me my voice. Not so much to spread a political message — the message was that I was alive.”

Spark: Culture Creates Community - A special KQED Arts series

Martinez named himself “Scape,” for Screaming Creative and Positive Energy. “Scape became my alter ego,” he says. “Scape was my superhero. Scape was everything that Edward wasn’t. Graffiti art allows you to do that in a way. Graffiti art allows you to leave the everyday and go out and wear that cape, if you will.”

Scape Martinez with students from his Graffiti Art Workshop
Scape Martinez with students from his Graffiti Art Workshop at The Mural, Music & Arts Project, in East Palo Alto. MMAP provides opportunity and empowerment to Bay Area youth through participation in the arts.

Today, Martinez is wearing that cape proudly. Two decades after firing off that first, exhilarating blast from a spray can, his career is thriving, with public art commissions for murals across the Bay Area, speaking engagements, workshops, gallery exhibits and four books on graffiti art. Martinez has emerged as a leading voice advocating for the social relevance and importance of graffiti art. Recently, he worked with Stanford Law students in a graffiti art workshop aimed at examining whether art forms that push societal boundaries, like graffiti, can provide a vital role promoting awareness and social change.

Students at Castilleja School, in San Jose, created "The Perception, Expression Cube" during a week-long collaboration with Scape Martinez and MMAP.
Students at Castilleja School, in San Jose, created “The Perception, Expression Cube” during a week-long collaboration with Scape Martinez and MMAP.

Because graffiti art so impacted his own sense of self-worth growing up, Scape is committed to using its power to give voice to underserved youth, like those he mentors at the Mural, Music & Arts Project (MMAP), in East Palo Alto. Since its founding in 2001, MMAP has served thousands of young people who, among other activities, research, design and create public art projects. As MMAP’s Artist in Residence, Martinez works to give a sense of place and purpose to the youth of East Palo Alto through extended, hands-on, graffiti art workshops.

In recent years Scape's work has evolved into large-scale pieces of abstract expressionism, like those seen on the exterior and interior walls at Roosevelt Community Center, a public art project commissioned by the City of San Jose.
In recent years Scape’s work has evolved into large-scale pieces of abstract expressionism, like those seen on the exterior and interior walls at Roosevelt Community Center, a public art project commissioned by the City of San Jose.

To those who see graffiti as vandalism, Martinez emphasizes that he teaches “the art of graffiti, not the act of graffiti.” He continues: “We teach that if you are going to paint a wall you must have permission. Period. We want to show the youth how to own their behavior, how to respect others and themselves, and to empower them to make better choices.”

Martinez sees graffiti as a uniquely American art, like jazz and blues, and believes it’s the ultimate in democratic art forms. “It is the largest art movement in the world right now,” he says. “Millions of youth are involved in it and millions of youth are reinterpreting themselves and the world that they live in. And there’s an incredible value in that.”

Scape Martinez, Mixing Paint with Positivity 15 May,2014Cynthia Stone

Author

Cynthia Stone

Cynthia Stone is an Emmy Award winning writer and producer dedicated to telling the stories of people and programs making a difference. Her television and radio documentary and feature work has focused on a variety of issues including education, the environment, trafficking, transformative programs that help children at risk, science and the arts. In addition to here at KQED, her work has appeared on Discovery, PBS, CNBC, Public Radio International/BBC among others.

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