When I arrive in Yucca Valley at the home of artist Lilian Martinez, she and her husband, Daniel McKee, are in work mode. The couple are working hard together on their first duo gallery show at Ochi Projects, in Los Angeles, dubbed ‘Bart, Beethoven, Wifi’ (which was set to open on April 11, 2020, but has since been postponed due to COVID-19). ‘I’m so focused on finishing the work for this show, I can’t see anything past it’, Lilian says.
Though she has only been painting for a few years, Lilian’s work has resonated with women, especially women of colour, and she’s made her way into the zeitgeist as a reincarnation of Henri Matisse, infused with ‘90s pop culture figures like Lisa Simpson, or Bugs Bunny playing Moonlight Sonata. Aside from her impressive slew of international gallery shows and her popular textile shop, BFGF (where her digital drawings come to life as throws, pillows, and keychains), Lilian has also collaborated with brands such as Life Water and Nike. In May, the iconic athletic company commissioned her to create a mural at their Melrose location in honour of the Women’s World Cup. But the collaborations that Lil really likes don’t have the biggest paycheque. ‘I recently did a design for a basketball court at a school in Los Angeles’, she says. ‘The kids get to use that every day, which makes me happy’
Lilian walks me through the house, pointing out the décor she cherishes, which is a mix of things she and Dan have made over the years and second-hand treasures. The couple has an affinity for natural materials, such as cotton, linen, and fine wood, which is displayed throughout the house. ‘This is a comb Dan made for me a long time ago’, she beams, picking up a little piece off the shelf. ‘I love combs. I have a comb collection. Want to see it?’ In the bedroom on the dresser Lilian has displayed a slew of combs, the decorative kind. (She keeps her everyday combs in the bathroom.) ‘I think combs are beautiful and functional’, she says. ‘There’s something special about having those two qualities together. They are sculptural but meant to be used’.
The house is a traditional California ranch-style home with brown tiled floors, an open-concept living room, and big windows. One bedroom has been converted into a music studio for Dan, while they have some plants growing in their laundry room. Out back, Lilian and Dan have converted the garage into a studio for Lil, which is bright, open, and filled with Lil’s acrylic paintings and materials. Dan works on his stone sculptures outside in the sunshine. ‘I love watching Lilian work’, Dan says. ‘She is so concise, and she has a clear vision. Whatever comes out always seems like an extension of her voice. She really knows how to reach her goals, whether those are visual or objective’. Lilian breaks into a shy smile and turns bright red.