Leaving his home of Cergy-Pontoise in the suburbs of Paris in 2016 and heading for Strasbourg on the German border, French illustrator Mathias Martinez found himself at Haute School Arts Du Rhin. Currently in his final year of studying illustration, Mathias has already established a strong visual identity in his drawings. Dark characters, moody settings and a striking colour palette make for a style that is at once eerie and enchanting.
Exemplified perfectly in his series of contorted, fleshy figures, Mathias says he was inspired by the infamous dancing plague of 1518, which took place in Strasbourg (then part of the Holy Roman Empire), where around 400 citizens effectively danced themselves to death for reasons unknown. “Where I live right now is only a few meters from the street where it happened, and I pondered the question of whether it could happen again today – but more like a never ending rave,” Mathias tells It’s Nice That. “The series actually ended up being published in a screen printed fanzine about rave parties.”
This nightmarish yet captivating aesthetic is evident in his series of sailor drawings too, with characters engaging suggestively with one another in strange surroundings. Mathias says this project was conceptually influenced by the work of Jean Genet and his seminal film Un chant d’amour, as well as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s adaptation of Genet’s novel Querelle. The illustrator explains that he is equally stimulated by mid-20th century homoerotic aesthetic and the drawings of Jean Cocteau, and that these sources helped build an identity for himself and for his work. “I use poetry and staging to explore themes of androgyny, gender fluidity and homosexuality,” he says.
Working exclusively with colour pencils because of the huge range of shades at his disposal, Mathias tells us that he is currently trying to develop his colour palette, referencing traditional Japanese woodcuts which have a vibrancy he finds particularly attractive and would like to further incorporate into his work in the future.
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