top of page

Breanna Cee Martins

Breanna Cee Martins (b. 1987) is a Latina artist currently living and working in New York. Known for her large-scale watercolors mounted on canvas, her ghostly paintings of phantom people and children evoke faded photographs or half forgotten memories. At the core of her practice is spontaneity. Mixing watercolor with hydrogen peroxide and bleach adds to the fluidity of each work, the images swimming to the surface, the final result only revealed after the pieces dry. The materials resist the illusion of control, her paintings seemingly conjured out of thin air. Martins’ imposes her will where she can, releases when she can’t, using a combination of objects including brushes, spray bottles, pipettes, magic erasers, and sandpaper.


Martins’ family albums were lost upon immigrating to the United States. As such, she primarily works from found black and white family portraits sourced from thrift stores, markets, vintage shops, or donated, having lost the ones from her own life and that of her forebears. Thus she preserves, memorializes, and gives life to the bodies she discovers. Perhaps even seeking to find memories of her own family in the process or at least pay tribute to those left discarded at various shops. Imagined narratives and scenarios are dreamed up for her figures often with an undertone of potential violence or as she catches people on the precipice of a climatic event. Children playing in the ocean turns lethal as one pushes the other too hard towards the water. A child stares forlornly at the viewer as his balloons verge of deflating. A lone boy floats in a pool as his head bobs just over the surface. Her monochromatic visions glow with kaleidoscopic color, watching the viewer watch them. Women are treated with delicate washes and layers of paint, creating lyrical compositions with limbs flowing into each other. As Donald Kuspit wrote, “The female body also appears, somewhat fragmented and fiery, in Breanna Martins’ ‘Pretty Fierce’–pretty but fierce, suggesting the difficulty of relating to her, if also her self destructiveness.” 


There is a constant thread of nostalgia inherent in Martins’ practice. The photos she employs frequently capture moments of wonder, melancholy, strength and vulnerability, their hollow framework inviting the viewer to find themselves in the images. The process of watercolor both captures the immediacy of childhood and like adolescence, its inevitable fading. In her words, “I’m Portuguese, and we have a term, saudade, which is nostalgia for a place you've never been or something you've never experienced. Nostalgia for imaginary experiences. I started thinking about that as I started to play with paint.” She captures the universal experience of growing up and longing for a simpler childlike state, but they ask, was it really simple or only in retrospect? Martins’ conjures relatable stories as she shows the joy and excitement of childhood, the angst of maturing, and the complicated dynamics of adulthood with conflicts often raging beneath the surface. 


Martins’ has exhibited both domestically and internationally and received her MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2011.

bottom of page