Westminster art teachers’ obtain solo exhibits at Poem 88

Upper school art teachers Pamela Diaz Martinez and Ben Steele have both held a solo art exhibit at Atlanta art gallery, Poem 88 over the past few months. These solo shows help to spread Martinez and Steele’s name in the local art scene and get their work curated into other galleries and museums. The expertise that the teachers develop while advancing their careers as artists can also be taken back to the classroom.
“One thing that really distinguishes our art department here is that most of our teachers are practicing artists that show our own personal work in the art world,” said Steele. Having their work displayed in local galleries and being shown to a local audience is vital for the emergence of an artist into the greater art scene, and helps them to better teach and inspire their students by allowing them to build stronger connections with them.
Though it is in different ways, both Martinez and Steele’s exhibits displayed futuristic artwork. Steele’s artwork attempts to tackle futurism in architecture with his oil paintings, while Martinez is pushing the boundaries of the art world by continuing her work involving the Holy Spirit.
In Martinez’s exhibit, ‘An Idiosyncratic path toward …, Martinez aims to depict her interpretation of God as he is described in Acts 2:2.
“It is recorded in the Bible that when Jesus’s followers are waiting for him in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit comes as a mighty rushing wind,” said Martinez. This chapter in the Bible is the basis for ‘An Idiosyncratic path toward …’. Each of Martinez’s pieces is her interpretation of that wind.
In order to portray her version of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:2, Martinez created erasings.
“I rub pastel on an industrial plastic surface with a cotton ball and then I have 20 or 30 different types of erasers that I use to erase,” said Martinez, describing the process she employed. Not only was Martinez’s work intricate and detailed, it is also larger than one might expect.
“The one thing that people are really struck by is that they don’t realize how big it is because when they see images of it online, they can’t see that my work is very large, and I can’t capture the tiny little details in an image,” said Martinez, explaining that seeing her artwork in person is a different experience.
Steele’s exhibit featured a series of oil paintings that resemble futuristic architecture. One theme of Steele’s exhibit, The Shape of Things to Come, is “aspiring to what we could be,” said Steele. He crafts models in his studio that look like futuristic architecture, and makes paintings based on these forms. One of the goals of Steele’s work is to express “the history of futurism as an architectural trend.”
Steele has a detailed process that allows his paintings to display what futuristic architecture may look like. First, Steele creates Styrofoam models that contain many forms placed together. He then projects imagery onto them to create a landscape in the background. With his creative imagery and lighting, the forms become a “dreamy landscape.” Finally, Steele makes paintings based off of the futuristic forms he creates.
Both Martinez and Steele have shown their work in galleries and museums in the past, but Martinez’s show represents a milestone for her as an artist.
“This is the first that I have been represented in my career, so it is pretty special,” said Martinez. By obtaining representation from Poem 88, not only does Martinez become exclusive to the gallery, but Poem 88 will help to build her name as a brand.
For Steele, his exhibit at Poem 88 is one part of his eventual goal of getting to a higher stage in his art career, and “showing nationally, showing at smaller museums, and maybe, eventually larger museums someday.” Solo shows at local galleries like Poem 88 can serve as a stepping stone to get to that next tier for an artist, making these exhibitions significant. Each of Steele’s exhibits help him acquire more public recognition, which, for an artist, almost always leads to more shows and opportunities.
Both Martinez and Steele’s exhibits have already led to recognition in the art world. They have both been featured in recent publications as a recent issue of New American Paintings contained an article about Steele, and Arts ATL published an article about Martinez. Steele’s piece in New American Paintings will help him gain public exposure as the publication is read internationally. While Arts ATL does not have the same geographical reach as New American Paintings, being critiqued by a local art critic will build Martinez’s name in the local art world.
“It is cool to be reviewed, and it doesn’t happen very often,” said Martinez.
While Martinez and Steele have both had many recent successes in their careers as artists, getting a solo show at the gallery does not come without its challenges. For Martinez, getting her work into galleries or museums can be particularly difficult because her work always involves the Holy Spirit, which, while it is becoming more accepted, it is not always well received by the entirety of the art world, and her prior work was not sellable to all audiences in a gallery.
“I made a deliberate effort to try and change my work,” said Martinez. In doing so, she would be able to make her work more commercially viable.
Artists also face the challenge of making their gallery stand out among all the other ones in the area.
“You have to work harder to establish a client base in a city like Atlanta,” said Steele. There are not enough galleries to support the work of all of the Atlanta artists, and the market is not strong enough for all galleries to flourish.
However, not only do these exhibits benefit the teachers’ careers as artists, but it also reaches to the classroom.
“It is interesting to see the connection between their own artwork and what they want to teach us,” said senior Zoe Wood. Learning from a practicing artist can give students the inspiration and knowledge they need to develop as artists for themselves.