Check Out One L.A. Painter’s Fresh Take On Figurative Art

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woman seated in front of giant figurative painting and surrounded by sculptures, vessels, and vases on low shelves and a white bench Artist America Martin sits surrounded by her current works, from massive painted canvases to various vessels and sculptures, all different iterations of her focus on figurative art.

The body is rich terrain for America Martin. Every gesture, movement and expression is akin to “a landscape that is forever changing” in the eyes of the native Angeleno. She excavates each nuance for her paintings and sculptures, mining newfound wonder from the oldest of muses.

Martin’s fascination with figurative art blossomed from a childhood discovery of Vincent van Gogh’s portraiture work in an art book. “I felt like I was reading a language I could understand, one that I wanted to start speaking immediately,” she recalls. This passion led her to start taking life-drawing classes at 10 years old.

Now, Martin has shaped her own corporeal lexicon. In her paintings, bodies emerge from pools of color, bordered by sinuous lines “that are the bass drum of my art,” she explains. “They make a figure feel light or heavy, or convey pride or waifishness.” Her sculptures follow a similar expression, with flat planes of metal and stone contoured around negative space.

America Martin drawing figurative images on large white canvas with charcoal

Martin draws on one of her large canvases with charcoal to create dark, gestural lines.

paint splattered canisters sitting in a row

She often chooses house paint to add broad sweeps of color to her pieces.

multicolored figurative artworks leaning against an art studio's white wall

A collection of artworks mixed with inspirational material leans against a wall of Martin's L.A. studio.

multicolored figurative artwork of a woman holding her stomach

An oil and acrylic piece titled The Pilgrimage references the artist's pregnancy and journey into motherhood.

Martin’s subjects reveal the anthropological curiosity that underscores her work. One piece may evoke ancient monolithic Mayan sculptures, Greek mythical gods or Colombian indigenous art (nodding to her own Colombian roots). In another, she might cheekily reimagine an English medieval tapestry or 19th-century paintings by Édouard Manet or Paul Gauguin. Other figures, like those of mother and child, transcend time and place.

In her studio, a 10,000-square-foot former drapery warehouse illuminated by skylights, Martin works on a large scale, flitting between massive paintings in progress. Compositions develop from sketches, whether derived from live model sessions or pure flights of fancy, “on those days when I just want to paint a woman that looks like a mountain,” quips the artist.

She utilizes both acrylic and nontoxic house paint, which allows for generous applications. “I like how oils and acrylics fight on the surface; they crack and drip,” she notes. Throughout the process, she’ll trade big brushes with oil sticks to create thinner lines. Each piece feels finished “when there’s a match between spirit and form—that’s when they hum,” she says.

Recent motherhood has only deepened Martin’s awe of the human figure. “Having a child is like seeing a Leonardo da Vinci architectural drawing,” she reflects. “Perfect. Brilliant. The best thing you’ll ever make. But, as an artist, I’m still hungry to create new work.”

PHOTOS: MARIANNA JAMADI