Vertical Gallery, Chicago’s premier urban-contemporary art gallery, is very proud to present ‘Leopard Brains,’ the debut solo exhibit from fast-rising painter Danny J. Martinez, a.k.a. Van Dam One.
‘Leopard Brains,’ which runs Sept 9-30 at Vertical Gallery’s new West Town location (2006 W. Chicago Ave. #1R — enter via the alley off Damen Ave.), features more than two dozen new paintings and sketches, all exquisitely rendered in Martinez’s colorful pop-surrealist style. Martinez will attend the exhibit’s opening, which runs from noon to 5:00 pm on Saturday, Sept. 9.
‘Leopard Brains’ dramatically advances Martinez’s ongoing journey of creative self-discovery, drawing on the artist’s personal experiences as well as the experiences of his community to explore and examine the world around us. The work on display fuses contemporary subjects and traditional mark-making techniques, conjuring multi-layered visual narratives that take their cues from fine art, magical-realist fiction, animation and virtually everything in between.
“My work toes the line between more traditional, academic surrealism and more pop-influenced surrealism — more me. I’m a melting pot of a lot of different things,” Martinez says. “Storytelling is very important to me, but I never want the story to be too obvious.”
The title “Leopard Brains” refers to the thalamus — the egg-shaped structure in the middle of the brain that serves as the body’s relay station, processing sensory information for transmission to the cerebral cortex. The thalamus also plays a critical role in sleep, wakefulness, consciousness, learning and memory.
“I first sketched the phrase ‘leopard brains’ years ago. I remember thinking ‘That’s a really odd pairing,’” Martinez says. “It’s the part of the brain that houses emotions. It’s also where the internal imagining trigger and urge response reside. That’s my art.”
Joliet, Ill.-born Martinez is a relative newcomer to the art world. He drew in sketchbooks and notebooks throughout childhood, but initially pursued a career in the corporate space, toiling in IT. He reassessed his priorities and ambitions during the pandemic, and decided to quit his job and begin painting. Under the alias Van Dam One (“an inside joke inside of an inside joke,” he explains), Martinez quickly became a fixture in group shows across the Chicagoland area, appearing in close to 30 shows in 2022 alone.
“I guess I’ve been trying to make up for lost time,” Martinez says. “I have been treating this entire journey like I have nothing left to lose, and like I’m going through art school one pop-up and one gallery show at a time. Every opportunity was something that I did not want to pass up, and I treated each almost as a test I needed to pass. As I put in the time and energy to continuously create new work, I slowly began to develop my own visual language.”
Vertical Gallery patrons have previously encountered Martinez’s work via group shows including 2022’s ‘Thing or Two’ and this past April’s 10-Year Anniversary Celebration.
“Danny Martinez has very quickly created a style of art that is uniquely his own,” says Patrick Hull, Vertical Gallery’s founder and curator. “I remember the first time I saw his work — everyone in the Chicago art community was asking ‘Where did this guy come from?’ We’re very excited to host his first solo show.”
Danny J Martinez (aka Van Dam One)
September 9 – 30, 2023
Opening day: Sat Sept 9, noon-5pm
Vertical Gallery, 2006 W Chicago Ave #1R, Chicago