His parents, Wilton Martinez, an independent filmmaker, and his mother, Patricia Poppe, who works for the Center for Communications Programs at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, lived in Lima, Peru in the early 2000s. When they returned, they enrolled him at Friends, a Quaker school, as a fifth grader, because it was less traditional than other area schools, he said.

"I've really grown here, and I appreciate the philosophy," said Martinez, whose family now lives in Dickeyville.

Under the tutelage of Benjamin Roach, the upper school art department chairman, Martinez has flourished. He curates a student art gallery in Friends' Forbush building. The gallery includes a self-portrait of him bare-chested and wearing on his head a white bag that he made, with black stripes and a chinstrap.

There are many student artworks in the gallery as striking as his, from a creche-like circus tableau to a face made of pieces of cork and other found objects.

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But Martinez has an aggressive will to succeed and make sure his work gets noticed that separates him from the pack, Roach said.

"He's not going to wait on you," Roach said.

Roach noted that although he had not publicized the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition much to his art students, Martinez sought it out and attacked it artistically.

Inside out

For the competition, Martinez built a miniature "inside-out house" that included photos in the windows, looking in and out. It was representative of eight houses he has lived in, in two different countries, he said. It was the kind of house that people could hold in the palm of their hand — a "nurturing" house, he said.

"He had something worth sharing and he shared it," Roach said. "Not every (student) has that work ethic. He is going the extra mile to get his work out there and share it and defend it. That's what special."

And Martinez is not afraid of an artistic challenge. "Inside-Out House" is based on a deliberately vague art assignment in which Roach handed him an index card that told him to create something with acrylic paint that related to "increase or decrease."

Cooper Union gave applicants six art assignments to do in a month, each within the confines of a small box. Studying for final exams at Friends, Martinez had to do his Cooper Union assignments in two weeks.

"I spent all winter break in my basement toiling away," he said.

It has paid off in free tuition and, more than the money, in respect.

"I take my work seriously and I'm really glad other people do, too," he said.

He has kind words for the Maryland Institute College of Art, a well-respected hometown school.

"I wish MICA wasn't in Baltimore," he said, grinning. "MICA's a great school, but I gotta get out of here."

And, sounding like an ad campaign, he added, "I love New York."

MoMA in his future?

He's most excited about joining a small school with 60 art students — "a whole community not paying. Everybody's equalized."

And he has great plans for his future, maybe as an art history teacher, or a curator, or maybe, just maybe a famous sculptor, like his heroes Calder and Louise Bourgeois.

How about being a starving artist?

"I'm prepared," he said. "But I'm looking forward to not being that."

He's thinking more in terms of being exhibited someday at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

"I'd love to end up at the MoMA," he said blithely. "But who wouldn't?"