Richard “Rico” Martin, the artist responsible for the dramatic bright-hued transformation of more than a half dozen Springs businesses, drowned last weekend, while swimming near Mt. Shasta.
On Monday evening, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that Martin, 61, drowned July 29 in Cliff Lake. His body was located the following day some 70 feet down in water of about 38 degrees.
Cliff Lake is a remote mountain lake located southwest of Mt. Shasta in a rural area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The accident took place only days after Martin returned from a two-month-long trip to Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
Martin is best known in Sonoma for transforming eight storefronts along a two-mile stretch of Springs neighborhoods on Highway 12 with a bright palette of colors that garnered him both loyal fans and some harsh critics.
He grew up in Santa Clara and San Jose and attended Cupertino High School. Despite his Irish and Italian roots, he was known to friends by the nickname Rico.
Martin has said that he was drawn to art as early as age 3. He earned a degree in sculpture from San Jose State and then studied conceptual art and design on a full scholarship at CalArts.
He lived in Hoboken and worked in New York City in the mid-1980s, where he was a lead art director for HBO. During that time, he designed the relaunch of Cinemax and branded campaigns for the Discovery Channel and Columbia Pictures. His more recent work has been in traveling shows in the United States and Japan, and collected both privately and by the Library of Congress.
Martin returned to the Bay Area when he turned 30.
He first got involved in the artistic community in the Springs when he offered to transform the interior of La Michoacana ice cream shop for his friend, owner Terasita Fernandez.
In 2015, he worked with four local businesses to use a $15,000 county facade improvement grant for paint, materials and permits, and then donated his time. As more businesses signed on for the transformation in 2015 and 2016, Martin told the community that he hoped the project would encourage travelers between Sonoma and Santa Rosa to stop in and enjoy the Springs community.
“Rico wanted the Springs businesses to look special,” said Fernandez. “He wanted to draw attention to the area and for the Springs to be a place of interest, that people noticed.”
In an interview with the Press Democrat in 2015, Martin said that he wanted to wake up drivers who were passing through the community.
“When you do something like this, they start engaging with the community and their neighbors,” he said.
On his website, wONEder.org, Martin explained, “It is amazing what simply bright beautiful colors can do to bring lightness and smiles to a neighborhood. It has been witnessed throughout the world that adding bright colors to run down areas creates a boom in business and help to transform local communities.”
During the period that the community seemed split over the relative merits of the bright storefronts, Martin told the Press Democrat that he stayed positive.
“I don’t take anything personally,” Martin said. “I don’t buy into the divisiveness, which is the opposite of what I’m all about. What I want to do is actually delight the eye. Once you have an idea behind the color, it lifts the eye and is totally positive.”