In 2012, I’m going to start interspersing shorter posts, about contemporary artists I like, with my longer historical pieces. I’ll call these snapshots, Contemporary Beat. For the inauguration of this new element on A Husk Of Meaning, I’m pleased to feature one of my favorite contemporary artists, Enrique Martinez Celaya.
Born in Cuba, in 1964, Celaya’s family moved to Spain when he was eight. His family then moved to Puerto Rico, and around the age of 12, Enrique apprenticed to a local painter. However, his principle formal education was in science, and in 1982 came to the U.S. as a physics student. He received a B.S. from Cornell and was on the verge of completing his doctoral work in quantum electronics at U. C. Berkley, when he dropped out to pursue painting full time. He had already received academic acclaim for his graduate work on lasers and had been granted a number of technical patents as well. He then earned MFA at U.C. Santa Barbara in painting.
His work consists mainly of the human figure set in isolated landscapes in heavily symbolic compositions. To me, his figures always seem lost in a transient, magical world somewhere between dream time and real time, in search of meaning, identity, and context. Even his pure landscapes have this quality.
Celaya is a wonderfully skilled technical painter, but he always keeps technique subservient to the idea he tries to manifest. He is influenced by many writers and philosophers, and writes regularly about his artisitic intentions and of trying to place his work in a wider framework of larger philosophical and intellectual concerns. Among his influences are Borges, Melville, Celan, Heidegger, Hegel, and Wittgenstein. Visually he takes, especially, from Velasquez and Caspar David Friedrich. I also find a deep strain of existentialism throughout his work. It feels to me like, although he fully acknoweldges this universal state of separateness and isolation, he fights against it. I almost feel as if he has to restrain his hand from invisibly reaching into the paintings and helping to guide his wayward subjects. He paints them unvarnished, as he sees their condition, but I aways feel he’s rooting for them, and by extension, us.
His portraits and sculpture express the same haunted loneliness.
Being a lover of things nautical, I find myself hypnotised by his painting, ” Battleship.
Here, I see a beautiful ghost ship heading unknowingly, irrevocably, and hypnotically, toward the rocks. She could be as easily in the middle of the ocean as approaching a rocky shore. The time and place feels like everywhere and always. The ship seems caught in a repetitive loop that happens over and over. This haunting quality both inside and outside of time, along with a deep sympathy and pathos, is, I believe, the essential core of Celaya’s visually arresting, and ambitious artistic effort.
Enrique, seated left, in his studio, The Whale and Star, with a workshop group. Standing, third from left, is my wife, the painter Kathy Peck, who was chosen to spend a week there.