Patrick Martinez captures the passage of time in neon lights and graffiti, at ICA San Francisco

LA artist Patrick Martinez’s ‘Ghost Land’ is his most expansive presentation to date, on show at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco

Patrick Martinez Ghost land
(Image credit: Yubo Dong / ofstudio. . Courtesy of artist and Charlie James Gallery)

Patrick Martinez’s ‘Ghost Land’, showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco (ICA SF) until 7 January 2024, is the most ambitious and expansive presentation to date from the LA artist, who is known for his mixed-media landscapes, paintings and neon artworks that draw on themes of diversity, immigration, racism, injustice and inequality.

‘Ghost Land’ by Patrick Martinez at the ICA SF

Patrick Martinez neon artwork with the words 'Promised Land' and a palm tree

Patrick Martinez, Promised Land, 2022

(Image credit: Yubo Dong / ofstudio. Courtesy of artist and Charlie James Gallery. Collection of Gaby Mischev)

Distilling the visceral experience of LA into abstract landscapes, ‘Ghost Land’ captures not just the passage of time but ongoing personal, civic and cultural loss – like graffiti that still remains after attempts to erase it.

The show features a large-scale sculptural installation, as well as a series of neon artworks and large, mixed-media paintings, which Martinez layers with the kind of materials, finishes and details commonly seen on community centres, schools, liquor stores and markets around the city – such as stucco, spray paint, window security bars, vinyl signage, ceramic tiles and neon – before scraping, overlapping, obscuring and even power-washing layers of his composition away. Like the exhibition title implies, these landscapes hold the ghosts of long-lost histories.

Patrick Martinez Ghost Land

Patrick Martinez, Kingdom Undone, 2019

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery. Collection of Helen Babst)

Meanwhile, his sculpture, commissioned by the ICA SF for this exhibition, is Martinez’s first landscape in the round and his largest work to date. It’s partly inspired by the 1980 mural Filling Up on Ancient Energies, created by Chicano art collective East Los Streetscapers in the LA neighbourhood of Boyle Heights. Originally more than 20ft long, the mural was removed in 1988 by Shell Oil without notice; when the collective sued Shell for its destruction, they won a settlement, paving the way for the California Art Preservation Act.

Martinez honours this legacy by creating his own version of a wall, built with cinder blocks. Capturing the moment between creation and destruction, Martinez has layered the wall with personal references, including portraits and landscapes that pay homage to his Californian roots, his Filipinx, Mexican and Native American heritage, and the urban visual language of his community, interweaving his own narrative with a historical one.

Patrick Martinez Ghost Land

Dogpatch Community Court Unveiling

(Image credit: Josh Leung. . Courtesy of artist and The Warriors Community Foundation)

‘Building a sculpture out of cinder block was something I always wanted to explore,’ he says. ‘It’s a fleeting material, it’s everywhere in the city, but it’s also being replaced by more modern aesthetics, such as “gentrification fences”. The East Los Streetscapers mural was painted on a long cinder-block wall and it made me feel that I wanted to show multiple sides of painting and sculpture at the same time. I wanted to try and achieve this with the wall structure, but also the broken pieces of cinder block. The materials I use speak to the fact that this city is changing, the materials I’m using are physically disappearing.’

Patrick Martinez Ghost Land

Sculptural work in progress in the studio

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery)

Martinez has exhibited both locally and internationally, with his work residing in the permanent collections of numerous galleries, including LACMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, and Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

‘Ghost Land’ is on show until 7 January 2024 at the ICA SF,


Anne Soward joined the Wallpaper* team as Production Editor back in 2005, fresh from a three-year stint working in Sydney at Vogue Entertaining & Travel. She prepares all content for print to ensure every story adheres to Wallpaper’s superlative editorial standards. When not dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, she dreams about real estate.