'Back In The Daze' Pays Tribute To The 90s

July 11, 2014

(Photo by Mark Brodie - KJZZ)
Noelle Martinez in her Phoenix studio.

Remember the good old days? You know, all the way back in the 1990s? Visual artist Noelle Martinez does — kind of. She’s only 24, but says 90s culture has played a big role in her life.

"It first started with my mom, her listening to Sade, Mary J. Blige, that type of soul music and then that transcended to my brothers, and from there my brothers showed me the way, because I learned drawing and everything from them, so music came along with it," Martinez said.

That combo is the basis for Martinez’s first gallery exhibit, called “Back in the Daze,” opening Saturday night at Willo North Gallery in Phoenix.

It depicts Afro-Centric music from the 90s - her paintings are a mixture of album covers, lyrics and portraits. Martinez said those were her biggest challenge.

Trying to represent those artists who are now dead, it’s a big deal. A lot of visual artists have tried this, and so if you’re gonna do it, you have to do it right, and that was the biggest challenge for me, but I’m really pleased with how they’re turning out," she said.

When she listens to some of the music from that time, do the messages stay the same to her now from what she heard back when she was a kid?

"I think if anything, they’re more enhanced now, I actually understand what people are saying and what they’re talking about and I can understand how much more creative people were back then in the music industry than they are now," Martinez said. "Before, I was a kid, I was listening to the music and I liked it because of the sound and everything, but now I can see where they’re really coming from and how much they’re creating. They’re doing what they love and you can really hear it in their music."

Martinez acknowledges she’s a little young to remember a lot of the music from the 90s, but points to the baseball hat and basketball shorts she wears, and has worn since she was a kid, as proof of the impact the decade has had on her.

"The 90’s are definitely involved all around us today, but I just don’t feel like people give a tribute to it," she said. "I think they think that people are creating that now, but there’s so much that was happening back then that people are doing now they don’t realize it — especially the younger generation, and maybe I am part of that younger generation, but I at least can recognize where all these references are coming from."

Looking around her Phoenix studio west of downtown, it’s kind of a "who’s who" of 90s rap and hip-hop. Portraits of Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG, a painting of Dr. Dre, and Martinez’s take on the song, “Shorty Wanna Be a Thug,” by Tupac.

"The character is Khalil from Bebe’s Kids, which is a 90s animated film, and I did the actual character, but I changed his clothes so he has the clothes from Doughboy in 'Boyz In the Hood,' the motion picture, and he’s being arrested like he’s being arrested in the actual motion picture," Martinez said. "And that was one of the first ideas I came up with on doing this show, and I wanted a lot of them to be my own creation, not just straight from the lyrics or movies or whatever it was. So, having those three different references from the 90s, I thought really brought it all together."

Martinez’ exhibit, “Back in the Daze,” opens Saturday night at Willo North Gallery in Phoenix - and, yes, she said there will be some of her favorite music playing.