Real genius – interview with Martin Ron

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Martin Ron has painted a series of breathtaking murals in Buenos Aires. His artworks stand out for their visual impact and grand scale using the technique of hyper-realism combined with elements of fantasy to create unique compositions on walls and buildings. Martin paints impossible situations that give the impression that they are happening in real life. Exclusive interview by Matt Fox-Tucker of Buenos Aires Street Art.

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Mural by Lean Frizzera, Martin Ron and Emy Mariani

Buenos Aires Street Art spoke with Martin recently about his giant mural of Carlos Tevéz at Fuerte Apache, and we also had the chance to find out more about the inspiration and ideas behind some of his other wonderful creations. “I started to paint ever since I was a child,” Martin recalls. “I loved to paint and my mother sent me to a workshop when I was seven-years-old. From the age of 10 to 18, I was painting with oils in one workshop or another and it was always a personal quest teaching myself to paint. Painting really had me hooked and I used to paint in the houses of my friends. The first mural I made was of a skull in my bedroom when I was 14. My friends really liked it and then asked me to paint their bedrooms.”

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Mural to celebrate the bicentenary of Argentina

While still at school, Martin was given permission to paint murals on the walls of his college. He later started giving painting classes and then participating in public art programmes organised by the local council. “The thing about murals is that it was an escape for me so I was always painting rather than studying,” reveals Martin. “We would go out with friends and paint and we’d take photos of our artworks. It was brilliant and people would say to me ‘I need you to paint this’ and they would pay me to do it.”

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Mural at Club Atlético Estudiantes in Caseros

Incredibly, Martin has painted more than 60 murals in Tres de Febrero that are part of a countywide project called the ‘Programme of Urban Embellishment’ (Programa de Embellecimiento Urbano).  The district council funds the scheme and covers the cost of paint and materials with the goal of improving the urban environment through urban art. “It’s a space that is really an expression of the artist and we have the freedom to do what we like,” says Martin. “The artist doesn’t have to spend money on materials, the council is happy because they are improving the neighbourhood and the local residents are happy because they have a new mural on their doorstep.”

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Ron paints Péron – babyface in Caseros (Jan 2011)

One of Martin’s most eye-catching murals is that of a baby boy with a piercing gaze making a V-sign. It’s located near to Caseros railway station in the Péronist constituency stronghold of Tres de Febrero, and was painted during the electoral campaign in early 2011. Martin revealed the mural has a double meaning. “Politically (in Argentina) the gesture symbolises (Juan Domingo) Péron and is representative of the Péronist party while internationally it’s recognised as a symbol of peace,” he explains. “It’s a real baby I took from a photograph and the history of the mural is related to the place. I try to study a place and the wall before I paint it. It’s a wall that has been scratched and covered with political posters. I tried to find something distinctive and a little bizarre at the same time. The image had to be bold because when you pass the mural on the train you only see it in a flash.”

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Trompe-l’oeil – Martin Ron in front of a mural that he painted with Nieves Fraga

Another style that Martin has been exploring in his art is that of trompe-l’oeil – the technique that employs extremely realistic imagery to create an optical illusion that an object or objects exist in three dimensions. It’s a method that has been used by the surrealist American artist Eric Grohe and also by 3-D street artists such as Edgar Mueller and Kurt Wenner. Martin explains: “I like to play with the subject of surrealism because of the feeling it generates in public spaces.”

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Optical illusions (Sept 2010)

One of Martin’s most imaginative and visually stunning murals is that on a busy street corner in Caseros featuring a man trapped inside a floating transparent cube. At the same time, the perspective in the mural is so life-like that it gives the illusion that a real woman (Martin’s real-life girlfriend Erica) is stepping into the composition from the street to grab hold of one of the cardboard boxes. “There is no explicit or hidden message,” Martin reveals. “I try to look for ambiguous situations that are paradoxical so you can interpret what is going on as you wish. You don’t know if the box is being put in or taken out of the picture. And the guy in the box is wearing a suit and is to do with the system. It could be that the glass is half full or half empty, it depends on your state of mind whether you look at it with an optimistic or a pessimistic view. The projection is like a metaphor, you can interpret it how you want. It’s playing with reality with a touch of fantasy.”

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Boxing clever

Martin explained further the relationship and fusion between realism and surrealism in his urban art. “The surrealism is in the composition itself but the technique (of painting) is what is realistic,” he says. “I like things that are surreal while at the same time it’s possible they are real. For this reason, everything is to scale and in reality it’s not a fantasy, you create the scene on the wall and you contemplate this surreal world as if it was an artwork on a grand scale. I try to generate situations into which I could transcend. It’s like a window into a magic world but it could be real.”

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Urban Embellishment – mural with Nieves Fraga (Jan 2011)

He added: “I always work with a concept and try to convey this concept in each mural with this one (with the boxes) and the one with the lion (above),” explains Martin. “Often when you are painting a mural, it is boring to have everything planned out but when you invent things spontaneously that’s the part that can be the most fun. One individual thing never grabs my attention so much that I want to repeat it over and over. I like to look at each wall and think what I can do with it whether it is painting a giant baby or a snail pulling a cart. I like to try out different things.”

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Animal magic – El Mago at Trompezón with Martin Worich (March 2012)

‘The Magician’ (El Mago) is an incredible mural where a topless man is operating what appears to be a mechanical hand that undoes a zip and out of the wall spring forth dozens of rabbits. “Everyone asks me ‘what do the rabbits mean?'” says Martin. “First of all the idea was to have a samurai cutting the wall with different things coming out of it, and we chose the rabbit because it’s a popular image. As human beings we are used to a routine, all the grey in the city and being stuck in traffic on the way to work. The idea with these concepts is to take people away from their normal everyday lives and when you see something different with a touch of fantasy, it makes you think to yourself ‘what’s going on?’ ”

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Going nowhere fast – Il Carromato Super Star (June 2012)

With Martin Worich, Martin painted a breath-taking mural named ‘Il Carromato Super Star’ alongside the General Paz motorway. It features a beautiful giant snail pulling a rickety old cart and a portrait of Martin’s uncle Rodolfo driving the wagon. Carromato is an Italian word that is used to describe a banger or old car that is always breaking down. “The poor guy isn’t going anywhere but at least he has a giant snail that can pull him along!,” jokes Martin. “It’s something illogical. Like in many other murals, I try to look for ambiguous situations that are paradoxical so you can interpret them as you like.”

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Martin Ron and Martin Worich after completing their new mural

While Martin also has been experimenting recently with different styles and techniques on canvas, what he still enjoys most is painting in the street. “Unlike painting at home or in your workshop by yourself, when you paint a mural you are presenting it to the public and they see the process step by step,” he explains. “And when it’s a project that lasts a few days painting outdoors, you are interacting with the people continuously while at the same time transforming the architecture and the place.”

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Human hands – Martin Ron painting in Palermo

Martin has also been giving painting classes to youngsters for eight years now and finds the popularity of street art is encouraging more children to get into art. “In the last couple of years, the main reason that the kids come to the classes is because of the murals,” he enthuses. “They always say they saw my murals and want to learn how to paint. The kids of today are machines for consuming, they are trained by all the media to buy things that are already made, and what I try to teach them as well in the workshops is that they have the ability to create things. The world of art galleries can be intimidating for a lot of people but when the kids see someone painting in the street, they think this is something they could do and they’re seeing work done by human hands that is becoming increasingly rare in modern society.”

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Mural at Square of Truth, Memory and Justice, Tecnópolis (Nov 2011)

“When you finish the piece and sign the artwork, it is no longer yours,” says Martin. “You did everything you could but it is not yours anymore. You are going to care about the mural but already it belongs to everyone, whether it is a neighbour, somebody taking a photo, or someone who has been stimulated by the mural or has been witnessing what is going on. Painting in the street has all these elements and it’s amazing – and that’s even without mentioning the nice things that people say to you when you are working, the motivation it gives you and being recognised for what you do.”

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Isabel Sarli by Lean Frizzera and Martin Ron (March 2012)

Martin together with the likes of Lean Frizzera and Emy Mariani has painted a number of famous Argentines. As well as Tevéz, he has painted portraits of actress Isabel Sarli affectionately known as ‘La Coca’, writer Ernesto Sabato, cuarteto singer La Mona Jiménez and last week finished a portrait of Diego Maradona and the ‘Hand of God’. “Maradona is the fifth of ‘the popular idols'”, reveals Martin. “I love to work with portraits. The project has taken its own form and it is not a plan we have to paint popular idols. It started with Tevéz and we had an amazing reaction and then the idea came about to paint ‘La Coca’. She is a woman who has the perfect shape for all of us to paint with my love for portraits and Lean and his sexy ladies. Sabato was a resident of Tres de Febrero and (with Nieves Fraga) we were invited to paint a mural to commemorate what would be his 100th birthday. We got on really well with some guys who are friends of La Mona Jiménez and I was then asked to paint his portrait.”

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Helping hand -Maradona by Martin Ron with Emy Mariani and Lean Frizzera (July 2012)

Martin went on:  “The mural of Maradona is more iconographic and isn’t so realist. On one side is Maradona and one the other is the ball, and he is punching it into the goal with his hand with the bridge as the goal frame. What interests me most is the impact it has on the people who see it.” The new mural of Maradona in Palermo was a design that they came up with after their original artworks including Martin’s incredible sumo wrestler were painted over by political propaganda a few weeks ago.

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Sumo wrestler at Meeting of Styles (Nov 2011) and posters in the city

Martin also sees painting public murals as a mounting challenge in a world with more and more visual clutter from advertising billboards, posters and propaganda. “A mural is in the street so that it stimulates the person who sees it,” he remarks. “A mural is not telling you what to say or do. With advertising it is imperative, telling you what you have to buy or do. In a way all the time (when you paint a mural) you are competing with all the visual contamination that is around us.”

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Old man – Ekeko (god of plenty from the Andes) in Parque Patricios

It may come as a surprise but Martin, 32, has up to now only painted half a dozen or so murals in the city of Buenos Aires but more and more people are already taking notice of his talent. “In Tres de Febrero lots of people know my name because there is sure to be one of my murals near to where they live but in the Capital Federal, people don’t know me so well,” he says. “Some people think I’m an old man (laughs) because they identify me with a particular mural, and when they meet me they say: ‘I imagined that you were a lot older!'”

All photos and interview © Buenos Aires Street Art

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