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        Danny J Martinez (aka Van Dam One) 'Leopard Brains'

        Danny J Martinez (aka Van Dam One) 'Leopard Brains'

        Vertical Gallery marks the spot for Danny J. Martinez’s solo debut ‘Leopard Brains’

        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)
        'Leopard Brains'
        September 9 - 30, 2023
        Opening day: Sat Sept 9, noon-5pm
        Vertical Gallery, 2006 W Chicago Ave #1R, Chicago

        Vertical Gallery Celebrates 10 Years

        Vertical Gallery Celebrates 10 Years

        Vertical Gallery is excited to present two special shows celebrating our 10-Year Anniversary! 

        Opening first on March 11 at Vertical Project Space:
        March 11 - April 16: Vertical Gallery 10-Year Anniversary Show Part 1 at Vertical Project Space featuring: Chris Uphues, Rae Denise (Racheal Scotland), AJ Ainscough, Laura Catherwood, Van Dam One, Goosenek, Melissa Villarreal, Angel Onofre, Matt Zuska and Jordan Ferguson.

        Vertical Project Space is located at 2006 W Chicago Ave #1R (entrance in alley off Damen). Open weekends 12-5.


        Opening on April 1 at Vertical Gallery:
        April 1 - 29: Vertical Gallery 10-Year Anniversary Show Part 2 at Vertical Gallery featuring: AlexFace, Martin Whatson, Flog, 2CHOEY, Hama Woods, Sergio Farfan, Collin Van Der Sluijs, Mr. Kreme, Mau Mau, and Pipsqueak Was Here!!! 

        Vertical Gallery is located at 1016 N Western Ave. Open Tues-Sat 12-6.

        Thank you to everyone that has visited and collected work from us over the past 10 years. And special thanks to all of the artists that have shown with us over the past 134 shows! 

        Email us at if you have any questions.