Arts & Life

SPECIAL ISSUE: Street muralist Noelle Martinez leaves her mark in Long Beach

When it comes to street art, Long Beach is a saturated city.

One doesn’t need to venture far from campus to find gargantuan masterpieces. Scattered throughout the city are giant murals painted onto multi-level apartment complexes, splayed on the sides of local businesses and stenciled throughout freeway underpasses, bridges and brick walls. These murals are so common and integrated into the city’s aesthetic, that most denizens rarely give them a second thought. Even fewer regards go to their creators.

Noelle Martinez, a 29-year-old Phoenix native, made her way to Long Beach in search of an art community that not only matched her own brimming enthusiasm, but offered her the potential to mature as an artist.

She found her niche in POW! WOW! Long Beach, an annual art event responsible for many of the city’s murals. When POW! WOW! agreed to bring her on as a volunteer in 2015, she made a point to make herself available in every capacity. It was just the kinetic frenzy she’d been looking for.

“I was basically the volunteer who was there before anyone else was there, and I stayed until two in the morning,” Martinez recalled. “I was just trying to be a part of whatever it was.”

Since her first year volunteering, the predominantly self-taught painter has been a POW! WOW! featured artist twice, in 2017 and 2018. Her bright, graphic murals can be spotted beneath the railroad underpass near Atlantic Avenue and East Del Amo Boulevard, as well as on the side of local business Aguas Way, a Mexican street food restaurant located on Long Beach Boulevard.

“I really love her use of color. I just love bold, in your face colors. They just kind of make you happy, and wake you up,” said Jenay Meraz, a friend of Martinez and previous Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition coordinator. “The way that she paints, it’s kind of surreal sometimes, but it’s also really fun and vibrant and there’s so much energy and movement in it.”

Martinez’s style draws inspiration from many of her early influences growing-up: reading comic books, skateboarding, ‘90s hip-hop and looking at graffiti. Admittedly never a tagger herself, she speaks to the veracity of her foundation in graffiti art.

“My brothers did graffiti and basically taught me everything from as far as my beginning drawing days,” Martinez recalled. “But for me, it was more so about just having the knowledge and the background of what graffiti was, what the rules are, and basically how color schemes work.”

Her days spent in Long Beach were, in many ways, an inspiration to the art she created while living here.

Although the painter has a modest education stemming from an associate’s degree in art she obtained at community college in Phoenix, her training comes from the most applicable kind of schooling: real world experience. She’s worked with and assisted both well-established and up-and-coming contemporary artists including L.A. based painter Patrick Martinez, France’s graffiti-queen Fafi, San Francisco illustrator Aaron De La Cruz and Brooklyn street artist Kevin Lyons.  

“She’s very resourceful,” said Gary Musgrave, an illustrator and adjunct professor at Long Beach State. “Whoever she’s around, she’s going to try and grow from them, or find something about them that she finds interesting and unique. [It’s] something that might be beneficial to her in a positive way.”

In the years spent curating her own education, working with many artists she admired and drew inspiration from, Martinez felt it was time to come back home and create the community she had been looking for when she first left. Why wait for it to happen, when she had the tools and experience to spearhead it herself?

After moving back to Phoenix last summer, the artist opened up her own studio called Stay Busy, drawn from her pseudonym BusyBirdy. It’s a space the size of a walk-in closet, where she invites artists to work under a dizzying time constraint of three weeks.

“I’m not ready to settle,” she said. “I don’t know when I’ll be ready to settle. I’ll just keep transforming and keep moving. That’s the motto.”

Though Martinez has little time to spare, working 12-hour days and curating shows while simultaneously working on her own projects, her thoughts do drift back to her time by the ocean.

“There’s something about Long Beach,” she said. “It feels like home. I totally want to be back, I need to go back. I miss it.”

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