John Martini continues sculpting Key West

John Martini continues sculpting Key West - A man sitting at a desk - Bahama Village

Find his sculptures in many states and countries 

Tucked away in Bahama Village, in the old “Afro” movie theater that dates back to Key West’s segregation days, is sculptor John Martini’s studio. I visited him there at work, while he was blasting ‘old skool hip-hop’ and sketching out his next masterpiece with chalk on a 500-pound piece of steel.

Martini is well versed in the arts. He has traveled the world studying it with his wife and said he is still evolving as an artist. He decided to make Key West his home back in 1976, working on boats and doing whatever necessary to make a living.

“Key West is good in everyway. It has Caribbean and Southern influences and an incredible art community,” Martini said.

He opened the Lucky Street Gallery back in 1982, and eventually sold it, but his art is still on display there. Martini’s unmistakable sculptures are found all over town. The new Marker Hotel, Parrot Key Resort and East Martello are all home to some of his creations. They’re hard to miss: oversized heads, birds and creatures from Martini’s imagination are cut from half-inch and three-quarter-inch and ¾ steel.

“Everything fits together and placement is important,” Martini said. “Sculptures blend into their surroundings.”

Martini said his artwork is physically demanding. Until just recently, Martini lifted and turned the steel plates with a manual winch. Just recently he invested in an electric winch. He cuts the steel with a French oxy-acetylene torch.

“It’s a form of meditation, cutting the lines to a point,” he said.

His studio more closely resembles an art exhibit. Dozens of his works, spanning three decades, fill the old theater floor. His early pieces have a distinctive style.

“I made this piece after Baby Doc left Haiti in 1986. That point of time inspired me to make the sculpture,” Martini said.

There are smaller pieces on the ground, about the size of large dogs, that look like dragons and have a tongue that moves up and down when wheeled around. They are titled “Mikey’s” and he made them during the time of the anthrax scare. He also makes monoprints as another medium of art.

Martini’s art can be found at Lucky Street Gallery in Key West, Sandler Hudson Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, the Shidoni Annual in New Mexico, Galerie Antoine Laurentin in Paris, France and Galleria Santamarta in Milan, Italy. His works are extensively represented in private and public collections including the large installation, “Head2Head,” at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. His work is currently on display at Lucky Street Gallery in Key West.