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Obituaries

Esperanza Martinez; Artist Won Worldwide Acclaim

January 16, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Esperanza Martinez, Latina artist who overcame sex discrimination to place her vibrant, sweeping, Diego Rivera-inspired paintings in museums and collections around the world, has died. She was 64.

Martinez, who moved from Mexico to Southern California in 1963, died Wednesday in Hacienda Heights of breast cancer.

When she was 3, her grandfather gave her a pencil and paper and told her to draw. By 7, she had attracted the attention of an art teacher who started training her, and at 12 she sold her first painting.

But female artists in Mexico in the 1930s and 1940s were not highly regarded, she often recalled. Even Martinez's family declined to promote her studies, considering such successful artists as surrealist Frida Kahlo to be "loose women."

Working two jobs and selling paintings, Martinez paid for classes at Mexico City's Academia de San Carlos, where Rivera was part of a teachers' collective. He took her on as one of his few private pupils.

"All female artists were treated as less than the men," she recalled in 1996. "It was Diego who taught me to believe in myself, who kept my spirit strong when at times I wanted to quit."

The deep reds, oranges and purples of her work, her depiction of full-figured women and her sweeping landscapes echo the murals of her famous teacher.

Martinez's works--done in oils, charcoal, pencil or ceramic paint--eventually sold for $10,000 or more and were collected by such celebrities as Jacqueline Onassis, Clint Eastwood and Red Skelton.

Her creations have been displayed at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the San Antonio Museum of Art and, in Los Angeles, at the Casa del Adobe Museum.

She also was commissioned for works by commercial clients including La Fonda restaurant in Los Angeles, Mexicana Airlines, Chevron and Coca-Cola, among others.

In recent years, during her struggle with breast cancer, Martinez frequently spoke at high schools and to youth groups.

"I was always so caught up in my art, in my world, in the past," she said in 1996. "But I want to leave a legacy to these new artists. I want to tell them they can overcome obstacles and stereotypes and be true artists. You just have to be dedicated and work very hard and believe."

Martinez is survived by her husband, Domingo, and son, Ollin.

Services are scheduled at 7 p.m. Sunday at Our Lady of Mt. Lebanon Cathedral, 333 S. San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Volunteers of America, 3600 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1500, Los Angeles, CA 90010.

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