Face of Defense: Army Artist Captures Life on Canvas
By Paul Bello
Fort Belvoir Public Affairs Office
FORT BELVOIR, Va., Dec. 29, 2010 More than two decades ago the young artist possessed a portfolio of work that could have opened the doors to any college or art school, yet becoming an Army illustrator appealed to him the most.
Army Master Sgt. Martin Cervantez works on a painting of a Haitian hotel that had collapsed during the Haiti earthquake earlier this year. U.S. Army photo by Marny Malin
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Today, after nearly 25 years of service, Army Master Sgt. Martin Cervantez believes his decision to join the military remains the best of his career.
Cervantez, who works here at the Army Museum Support Center as its artist in residence, is a native of Clarkston, Mich. He has been with the organization for a little more than two years and has spent the bulk of his career taking pictures and working as a field artist while a part of numerous psychological and other special operations.
A self-taught artist, Cervantez found during his childhood that he had a passion to draw and paint. As he got older, he said it was his grandmother who encouraged him to explore his talents and consider a future in art. As it turned out, it was advice that stuck.
“I heard the Army was looking for an illustrator and just went for it. I told recruiters if I couldn’t do anything artistic then I wasn’t really interested,” Cervantez said. “To be a part of an organization like this is the icing on the cake for me. Here, I can lend my skills to our nation’s history. That’s an amazing opportunity to have.”
Besides serving in mostly leadership positions for the past 12 years, Cervantez has documented such things as strategy briefings, military exercises and routine air and ground patrols. His work comes from personal experiences and believes it takes a real talent to create something out of nothing.
He spent four months in Afghanistan at the end of 2008 and was in Haiti earlier this year after a massive earthquake crippled the island nation.
With so many images of life in his head, Cervantez finds he can’t wait to get back to the studio and put them on canvas. His time in Afghanistan produced some oil paintings he’s most proud of and he is hopeful to visit the country again before his military career ends.
“Normally, I’ll draw field sketches and take photos while on an assignment. Then, I’ll come back and sift through all the material to see what I want to make a larger presentation out of,” Cervantez said. “My goal during this process is to capture what soldiers experience and how it affects them and the community. It’s a thrill for me to have a soldier see a piece of art and say that’s who I was and that’s what I did.”
Cervantez admits he has become more responsible in what he portrays in his work and said there are mental images he will not even go near as an artist. In Afghanistan, he’d witnessed a suicide bomber blowing his body apart. As horrible as that was to experience firsthand, he said it pales in comparison to the time he saw a Haitian civilian bend down to light a cigarette off the charred and smoldering remains of another individual.
A fan of impressionism and abstract art, Cervantez has applied all kinds of methods to his artwork. This includes using oils and acrylics, to accentuate a particular moment he has captured either by hand or through a photo. He also said it’s his preference to keep his work ambiguous so everyone can relate to it. He has never inserted himself into anything he’s done and has no plans to start now.
When not at his Belvoir studio, Cervantez may be found in front of a classroom mentoring fellow soldiers at Fort Meade, Md. Besides being a senior artist in his field, he is part of a Critical Task Site Selection Board and enjoys sharing his zest of art with young students.
He has been invited to speak at art galleries and currently has two of his oil paintings on display as part of the “Art of the American Soldier” show at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
“I’ve told students how fun and personally rewarding this has been for me. I also stress the importance of not interfering with the safety of the soldiers out in the field,” Cervantez said. “I’m not worried about the dangers that come with the job. I believe that’s inherent with living. I’m an American soldier and it’s my fate to continue doing this.”
And, to his three children, who have all shown flashes of artistic talent, their father has some keen advice.
“I tell Kellie, Jaymz and Frank to sketch whatever they can whenever they can,” Cervantez said. “Every artist needs to discover themselves and I encourage them to draw from their own experiences. It’s worked for me and I thank God for it.”