HACKENSACK, N.J. — An artist and Hackensack native already known in the toy art world has landed his first major show featuring his illustrations.
Hackensack High School's Felix "Cat Atomic" Martinez (Class of 2010) will be the guest at an artist's reception for his Philadelphia-based show "Going Through the Motions."
The month-long solo show in collaboration with fellow artist John Grayson opens Friday, Feb. 3, from 6-9 p.m. at the Mothership Art Gallery .
Hackensack High School educators, especially his art teacher Joe LaMattina, inspired him to work harder at his art.
"My teachers there pushed me to take my art more seriously," he said.
At the time, drawing was his focus and in 2012 he landed a job as a graphic artist at Whole Foods.
"After drawing all day the last thing I wanted to do after work was draw so I needed something else," the 24-year-old said on how he discovered the toy world.
He tagged along with a friend doing a toy convention and was instantly hooked on the art form.
The artist began creating his own in 2014 and conventions like ComicCon in New York became the place to find collectors.
"People are shocked when they realize how many people are into this. It’s a pretty big market in North America and really big in Japan and the UK."
The art toy craze was fueled by urban millennials with a flair for design but Martinez said he doesn't think of the marketplace when creating.
"I just create what I feel and love and at the end of the day that’s what’s more important and that’s what separates an artist from a businessman."
The figures he created because he thought they "looked cool" and it turned out other people liked them too. Some sell for under $100 but others go for hundreds.
"Some of this is just getting lucky too. All it takes is one person to see it. And they post it online," he said.
His following is on Instagram, where he also follows many other artists and picked up the idea of doing live social media shows.
His first live illustration and Q&A on Instagram drew about 35 people but others draw thousands.
He's planning more in the future and expects the process will become more comfortable.
Landing the Philly show, which sprung from an Instagram connection, is a big deal for him because it's a chance to gain exposure for his illustrations.
"I’ve been wanting to get my 2D work out there and keep it separate from the toys."
While the toys don't carry a theme, his more recent illustrations of faceless celebrities against the milky way tell a story.
"When we think of them as people, they’re important in the physical sense, but in the end, we’re all the same in the universe," he said of his works of Basquiat and Andy Warhol.
Martinez spends more time on his art these days and is freelancing in graphic design, but ultimately, he wants to create and sell his work full time.
"I look up to really big artists that have surpassed shows at conventions and are doing shows at museums. I want to be recognized as a great artist," he said.
One of his biggest inspirations comes by way of contemporary pop artist KAWS (Brian Donnelly) from Brooklyn, who also started as a vinyl toy artist after gaining attention for his graffiti in Manhattan.
"KAWS is seen as one of the most sought after pop artists in the world. His toys sell out immediately."
After his collaborative show in Philly, Martinez hopes to make his way to New York City.
"That’s a huge thing for any artist, to have a show in the city. After the city, I know a couple people in the UK and hope that will happen down the road."
Click here for more information about the Philadelphia art reception on Feb. 3.