New Brunswick

Insect pigments used by Mexican artist to paint Saint John

Artist Fabiola Martinez said her art is inspired by the city haze and street lights cutting through the fog.

Artist Fabiola Martinez says her art is inspired by the city's haze and street lights cutting through fog

Insect-based paint used to put Saint John's haze on a canvas

5 years ago
1:45
Artist Fabiola Martinez has always had a passion for painting, and it's her use of a traditional technique from her home in Mexico that continues to define her work. 1:45

Artist Fabiola Martinez has always had a passion for painting, and it's her use of a traditional technique from her home in Mexico that continues to define her work.

Martinez uses the deep red pigments derived from a parasitic insect called cochineal to make her paint.

In her Quispamsis studio, she described how the female insects are taken out of the cacti they feed on, dried, and turned into powder.

"This is an ancestral technique" Martinez said "Mayans and Aztecs used to use it to decorate."

Her uncle, still in Mexico, has carried on the tradition of making the cochineal powder she paints with.

Inspired by city haze

While she has been living in the Saint John area for a decade, it is only in the last year Martinez has begun painting the city. Like many who come to the area, Martinez was inspired by the city's thick haze.

"One of the things I really [loved] about the city was the fog and that emotion that's so calm."

Martinez said her paintings are inspired by the city’s thick haze. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

So Martinez began painting cityscapes, blending bright reds of the cochineal with lighter tones to represent the persistent shroud over the city.

The results are a juxtaposition of calm, almost out of a dream, mixed with intense passion. Martinez said the colour red can elicit thoughts of strong emotions, which can represent the city itself.

But a constant feature in each of her paintings are the street lights cutting through the fog.

"When the fog is really heavy all you can see is the light," Martinez said, "It can guide you."

"It can give you the feeling of rebirth, like the city of Saint John" she said.

"Going through that transition of changing, to see what's next. What's going to happen next."

Martinez said she plans on continuing her series of cityscapes, which she has called Haze in the City.

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