Fabiola Martinez grew up in Querétaro, an inland province of Mexico, where the terrain is a blend of semi-desert and subtropical rainforest about as different from life on the Bay of Fundy as can be imagined. She came to Canada when she was twenty-five years old, looking for adventure on a year-long backpacking trip, with a thousand dollars, and no English. She fell in love; not only meeting her husband, a native of Saint John, but with the Canadian countryside, and the full spectrum of its seasonal colours, “This is a beautiful place, because you’re able to enjoy the four seasons. Here you can enjoy the colours you can see in the maple trees; the oranges, the reds, the yellows. In Mexico, it’s a different landscape, it’s beautiful, but it’s different. There is no snow. There is no fall. In the spring there are some flowers, and they grow nicely in the springtime, but it’s not remarkable like it is here.”
“When I moved to Saint John, I fell in love with the city. To me it was so cute. To me, it’s beautiful. I love the city of Saint John.”
Fabiola studied architecture in university while still living in Mexico, but an elective course in watercolours and oils developed her interest in art. Following graduation she found work with the government, but dissatisfied with her job, she found it necessary to make a choice, “I realised that I didn’t have enough time for me to be painting, and I wasn’t happy in my job, so I decided to move on and, and to start an adventure.” She left her job, and began painting full time, but there’s a strong sense of her architectural training still incorporated into the contrasting lines that make up the focus of each piece, “That’s my background as an architect; that will not go away. It was five years taking that course, and it’s something I see every day; every time you have a design project, it’s all about the balance, it’s all about the proportion, and it’s all about the lines, so that comes out in my paintings.”
Recently, Fabiola was commissioned by Canaport LNG to do a twenty-five piece study of their new terminal. With the juxtaposition of the sometimes harsh lines, the rigid architectural forms, and the luminescence of work lights against a night sky, Fabiola creates works where light embraces the beauty of industrial design, almost a modern take on Francois Carbu. “I contacted them. I wanted to describe Canaport from the beginning; the first stand that they built, the first ship that came, and to capture those moments, the history of Canaport. I think it’s important to know because Canaport has been a big sponsor of the arts, and we need to know what they’re doing, and who they are. It was a good opportunity for me to do that.”
Her art has been produced at a rate that can only be described as prolific; following the twenty-five piece study for Canaport, she has completed a set of night time cityscapes, started a series of fall paintings featuring the Kennebecasis Valley, and intends to begin another series of night time cityscapes of Rothesay/Quispamsis. “I’m always thinking like a singer, or a musician that has to practice to get better and better. I always remember this: a lady was saying to a master pianist, ‘I would give everything to play the way you play’, and the pianist says, ‘I have given everything, my whole life, to play as I do’. So that got into my head and all the arts are like that; a dancer practices so much to dance the way they do. A singer takes so many hours of singing to sing the way they do. So, if I want to become a better painter, I have to practice more.’ When I see something, an image that I really love, I push myself to make that happen with my paint brush.”
Two of her exhibits have focused on tying together her native land of Mexico, and her adopted home of New Brunswick. Corners, produced in 2013, features the contrasting 18th century architecture of New Brunswick, in its gothic style, against neo-classical Querétaro, both incorporating mixed-media representing the different construction materials. Organic Memories is an ongoing project in abstract art that also incorporates mixed-media to represent her two homes, “It’s my connection to my ancestors and the first nations here. They were all here. That has a special meaning to me. That is my experimental work.” These organic compositions utilise leaves and twigs to depict Canada, but rather more significantly, the cochineal bug, to produce a vibrant red pigment. “This is what I use… it smells…. ew…. like a cactus. Those paintings are all natural; the paint that I use is a natural pigment that comes from a female bug that’s found inside a cactus. My uncle, from Mexico, farms these insects for a living, so when I started painting, he said I should do something with this. It’s just one colour, cadmium red, and I thought ‘I’m not ready for that. One colour? What am I going to do with one colour? I love too many colours, what am I going to do with only one?’”
Fabiola, her art, and her enthusiasm for the beauty of New Brunswick creates an overwhelming sense of pride for a province that many of us lifelong inhabitants have taken for granted.