Enrique Martínez Celaya


Enrique Martínez Celaya was born in 1964 in Cuba, where he spent the early years of his life. He grew up in Spain and Puerto Rico. At the age of eight, Martínez Celaya began drawing regularly. Painting soon became an important form of expression for him. He was so eager that he took lessons from a painter while attending school. Painting remained with Martínez Celaya while he studied physics, which he took up in 1986 at Cornell University in Ithaca in the State of New York. Upon graduation, he was confronted with a difficult choice: The University of California had accepted him for a doctoral program that promised a rewarding career. On the other hand, his need for artistic expression had been growing stronger. For a while, Martínez Celaya pursued both these interests in parallel. Then in 1990 he decided that he wanted to do something of value to himself and others—and this something was narrative, figurative painting. He consigned to paper what he definitely did not want: “paintings that only I can understand”. And so Martínez Celaya studied art at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in New York and the University of California in Santa Barbara, and devoted himself to socially involved artistic creation.

That decision-making process reflects how important it is for Martínez Celaya to engage in textual dialogue. He wrote a kind of short manifesto, setting out the arguments for and against, and essentially letting the decision take shape through the writing. His artistic output is still accompanied by texts of many kinds. The artist composes notations, diary and blog entries, poems, manifesto-like statements, lectures, and much else besides. Text and writing are also found in many of his paintings. And independently of his artistic practice, he has published in various fields, even founding his own press in 1998.

Martínez Celaya’s textual articulations are nourished not least by his deep immersion in philosophical questions and theories. The writings of Hegel, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche are pivotal. Drawing on their ideas, Martínez Celaya has formulated an ethical, socially committed approach to the work of an artist. This provides the foundation for his oeuvre, which is notable both for the plurality of media deployed and for the stringency in style and content. Gradually, the bidimensionality of paper, paint, and photography gave rise to a third dimension. The artist incorporated materials like feathers, tar, mirrors, wax, and cloth into his paintings. Soon he expanded his spectrum to include sculptural work, which then grew into spatial installations and environments. The diversity of media and materials contrasts with a continuity in motif and content. These latter touch on fundamentals: ever-present themes are alienation or rapprochement between humans and nature, individual and collective memories, the constant discrepancy between what happens and what we remember. Alongside these, he processes the experience of home and alien territory, exile, feeling safe and feeling exposed.

This universe of existential themes is reflected in a universal artistic idiom. Martínez Celaya never loses himself in detail or distracts attention: his compositions are expansive, precise, embracing the space; the elements of the motif are always clear—with veritable archetypes of people, animals, landscapes and shelter.

Martínez Celaya lives and works near Los Angeles. His work has long been anchored in the international canon of contemporary art and shown at many exhibitions. Venues displaying his works recently include the Phillips Collection in Washington, D. C., the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, and the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig.