Alfredo Martinez is a prime example of a talented young artist who has paved his own artistic road in Savannah despite the sometimes challenging lack of opportunities for creative types.
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Martinez moved to Tampa, Fla., with his mother when he was 7 and eventually relocated to Savannah to attend SCAD for illustration. When he graduated in 2013, there were precious few career options for him as an artist, so he ended up working the night shift at Five Guys for a time to pay his bills while still following his creative pursuits.
Martinez comes from a creative family. His mother always supported his artistic leanings, but when he graduated, he was at something of a loss as to which career path to take. Through a series of fortuitous events, he was introduced to Vann-Ellison Seales, who had just started the T-shirt design company 13 Bricks. Martinez began doing design work with the burgeoning business, helping out however possible and eventually attained his current position as art director.
Despite the occasional challenges and setbacks over the years, 13 Bricks is now a thriving local business that does exceptional work. They’ve expanded from T-shirt design to brand development, printing and all manner of graphic design, including illustration, logos, posters and much more. Their clientele includes many other local businesses, which has contributed considerably to their success.
“Any success 13 Bricks has had as a business has been on the back of us trying to work with all these other small businesses and trying to see them succeed,” says Martinez. “And they see that and appreciate that.
“We’ve had huge obstacles come up and smack us in the face and we’ve been knocked down so many times, but the thing that I’ve taken from it all is that it really comes down to just sheer stubbornness and the absolute refusal to give up at any point.
“There’s always challenges and hurdles, but we’re always finding the new thing to get into. It comes down to stubbornness and adaptability … We’ve got this philosophy of just saying yes, then figuring it out. And it works … You find out more often than not that you can do a lot more than you thought you could.”
But Martinez hasn’t stopped there. In addition to his work with 13 Bricks, he’s branched out to mural design, painting murals and signs for clients like downtown hotels Andaz and Hyatt, Atlantic and Howlin’ Hound restaurants, Your Pie in Pooler, and an assortment of other businesses like La Terra Natural Oils and Starlandia Creative Supply.
For the past year, Martinez has been in Tampa to be closer to his mother while she deals with some medical issues, but he says her prognosis is good and he plans to return to Savannah soon. In the meantime, he’s been visiting Savannah off and on for various jobs like Your Pie and to participate in events like the A-Town Get Down Arts & Music Festival, where he did live painting with a number of other Savannah artists. He says his time in Tampa has given him the space to evaluate his future career path.
“It made me understand what my priorities are,” says Martinez. “And also gave me some time to think about what direction I want to head in long-term.”
While he’s wholly committed to 13 Bricks and is anxious to return to Savannah full-time, he’s also excited about the prospects of doing more mural work.
“That was a thing that I never really set out to do,” says Martinez. “I had an opportunity at one point with Andaz and, after I did it, I was like, this is dope! … It was so much fun. That was what put me on blast as far as making my name available for people looking for that kind of service.”
He particularly enjoys working with clients like Atlantic, whose owners genuinely value the work he does.
“It’s so much better working for those kinds of clients,” says Martinez. “People who are really invested in their own business. They’re all local and they all have a similar mentality and similar experiences and I can connect with them. They really care about what you’re doing.”
Martinez also recognizes the importance of connecting the various creative fields in Savannah, like the art scene and the music scene.
“I don’t make music, but I’m definitely a person who is very in love with music and it’s a huge part of my creative process. So one my goals here in Savannah — besides painting the entire city — is to help marry the music and art scene and help both of those help each other.”
Martinez has done a number of album covers and art projects for bands like Street Clothes, local hip hop sensation KNife, XuluProphet and a fundraiser for Savannah Children’s Choir, among others.
Martinez hopes all of his work in these various areas will contribute to a stronger creative economy. Businesses like 13 Bricks are the bedrock of that economy and they provide jobs for the creative class that are currently in short supply.
“I think Savannah has the potential of becoming more important on the world stage, given time,” says Martinez. “So helping to be a part of that would be amazing. Just thinking about it is inspiring.”
He hopes the work 13 Bricks is doing also helps create a model for other businesses.
“What we really want to do is to create the opportunity for [artists] to be able to stay so Savannah can start to retain some of that talent … to be a part of creating the infrastructure that other people can take advantage of… In furthering the quality of music and art, the whole community comes up. It’s part of the greater come up.”
Kristopher Monroe is a writer documenting the intersection of art and community. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter @savartscene.