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Thunderbirds Paintings Are Go!

Two original Thunderbirds paintings by artist Alberto Martinez are now available from the Official Gerry Anderson Shop. Licensed by ITV, they capture Thunderbirds' place in British culture as an icon of the sixties. 

We caught up with Alberto to talk a little about his work and his relationship with the Thunderbirds series.

JK: Firstly, could you tell us a little about your background and how you came to be an artist?

AM: I was born in Cuba in the mid 70’s and lived in a small village far from any town or city. I was the son of a tractor driver so grew up fixing things which meant I was naturally good with my hands and fascinated by finding out how things work. I always enjoyed drawing the steam engines that used to pull the sugar cane trucks past our house, and so by a combination of good luck, sound preparation and the help of friends and relatives I passed the entry exams to the arts academy in Trinidad (which is a city on the south coast in Cuba). I originally trained there as a sculptor, however after some years I started experimenting more with painting – particularly with oils.  It was almost by accident that I started painting the way I do.

JK: Did you grow up with Thunderbirds, and if so what are your fondest memories of the series?

AM: No – because of where I lived, I grew up watching American cartoons and children’s programs from the now defunct eastern block and the Soviet Union. I only discovered Thunderbirds when I moved to the UK and started watching it with my kids (who adore the new Thunderbirds cartoons – particularly my son). I was intrigued by the fantastic attention to detail in the production, and found the story lines to be fantastic.

JK: What would you say gives your work such great appeal and makes it so enticing?

AM: Story telling has always been important to me - which is evident in the intricate narratives behind each of my works. I think this helps to engage the viewer and allows them to develop a connection with the painting. I also use tropical colours (influenced by my Cuban heritage) which I think emanate a certain warmth that people find appealing. Finally, I think there is uniqueness in the way I juxtapose many different elements of the painting to create a type of ‘puzzle’ for the viewer to solve.

I am always learning though, even now I am consistently working to improve my technical ability!

JK: Have you referenced Thunderbirds in any of your previous work?

AM: Just once. It was Thunderbird 2 taking off from a British aircraft carrier in the painting ‘Dolls Square’. You can see it here:

Fabulous Penelope

JK: In Fabulous Penelope, we can see many classic British icons on display with Lady Penelope and Parker at the very centre of it all. Do you see Thunderbirds as something that is inherently British?

Yes, definitely. I have always incorporated themes that reflect ‘Britishness’ in my paintings as acclimatising to the culture and surroundings since I moved here has greatly influenced my work. So doing so with the Lady Penelope piece was almost a natural progression. The bus, British Bull Dog inside the car, teapot, Leyland truck and architecture are all nods to British culture. You’ll also notice that Parker has a football which acknowledges that the original Thunderbirds series was produced between 1964 and 1966 (the latter year being when England had a historic victory in the World Cup).

JK: Are the snails in place of wheels on FAB 1 likewise saying something about British culture?

AM: Again, yes. Based on my experiences of living in Britain I have always felt that the British culture is generally more cautious and laid back…I have used snails to reflect this in other works that I have made.

T2 - International Rescue

JK: T2 – International Rescue has Thunderbird 2 as its main feature. Has it always been your favourite of the Thunderbird machines?

AM: It is my favourite, yes…. But it loses only by a nose to Thunderbird 1! Thunderbird 2 is just so well engineered and sleek, and incredibly versatile – more so than the rest of the fleet. It’s the versatility that I like the most. This probably relates back to my childhood fascination with mechanical things that I spoke about earlier. Thunderbird 2 also just has a certain ‘coolness’ about it!

JK: Why are the vast multitude of animals in the foreground of the painting in need of rescue from Thunderbird 2?

AM: Thunderbird 2 is almost like Noah’s Ark…providing a place of shelter for the animals from the world we live in.

There’s a moral undertone here that is saying that mankind are so busy worrying about their own lives and being materialistic, that they have forgotten about the rest of the living things that share the planet.

JK: The buildings in the background appear to be built from timeless toys such Lego, Meccano and a Rubik’s Cube. Would you say the appeal of Thunderbirds is equally as timeless?

AM: Definitely. This was a deliberate association I made in the painting. Timeless toys as metaphors for a timeless series!  I have enjoyed the new series, which I believe is a product for the more technically aware generation that we now live in... But equally I just love the old ones! I so admire the superb story lines and the painstaking attention to detail. They are analogue, beautifully constructed and it just works!

The fact that Thunderbirds is now back on our TV screens after 50 years speaks for itself.

JK: Are we likely to see any more Thunderbird machines or characters pop up again in your future work?

AM: You can bet on that. I have already some ideas in my head…

Thank you to Alberto for talking to us and we hope you enjoy his incredible artwork. Original paintings on canvas are available now at the Official Gerry Anderson Shop, made to order and framed.