Enrique Martínez Celaya, "The Tears of Things"
A Reflection of Journey, Risk and Transformation
By A. Moret
“At this stage, I have been writing and thinking about what’s going on without trying to control it,” Martínez Celaya says standing with half his body facing the painting and the other toward me. He contends that “The Promise of the Most Whole” and much of the works in “The Tears of Things,” are more focused on “the land, and more about journey, and risk and transformation,” while the sea was a dominant motif in “The Mariner’s Meadow” at Blain|Southern, London. Presenting the roaring ocean in shades of gold, the painting titled “The Second Sign,” is a continuation in the artist’s preoccupation with gold. The terrain has shifted from the water to land which sparks the question for Martínez Celaya, “what happens when the entire landscape that you are engaging with seems to be transforming into gold?” The color gold can be considered an allegory for painting- the presentation of a shining, glistening surface that has risen from the ashes to serve as a beacon. However, there is a tension between the subject and the artifice of the surface. In a conscious decision, Martínez Celaya crudely renders the gold to suggest gold but also acknowledge the crudely painted paint.
While writing is an integral part of his artistic practice, the subjects of each painting are rendered without reference to any source, just as a writer doesn’t begin in pencil to trace over selected words in ink. The paintings undergo a revision just like a piece of writing. “There’s a lot of writing in my notebooks and I have this desire and hope that there will be a lot of text in these paintings when they’re done,” he says while mixing more auburn shades into the golden trunk. “I still haven’t figured out why it is that text appears sometimes early and sometimes later,” he explains. The paintings are often inscribed with words and this weight makes them feel like poems as Martínez Celaya suggests, “I think that sometimes it feels as if the paintings are poems anyway because the aspect of space between words is so important to them that they should be considered poems in themselves.” The narrative of his poetic paintings often shifts depending on who is reading the works, especially because Martínez Celaya’s personal story references turbulent cultural climates in his native Cuba and upbringing in Spain and Puerto Rico. To achieve autonomy from his work so that they are not dependent on his story and symbols, the artist commits to making his actions faithful. Painted in the artist’s light cursive hand, the same message appears on the highest point of the wall, looking down onto the studio space below. Looking up at the message the artist explains that “the idea is that your actions and your words will be the same. If I am saying something to you and the moment you leave I am acting completely different, then that’s kind of a lie that not only destroys you as an individual but destroys you as an artist.” Pointing to a table on the opposite end of the gallery, the artist refers to the photographs and objects placed along the wall. “None of those things are mementos,” he insists. “They look like they are, but they are not. They’re all rulers by which I measure my behavior,” he states after smudging the canvas with a blue cloth.
In his writing titled “The Tears of Things,” Martínez Celaya addresses that the paintings and sculptures in his exhibition “revolve around three dualities- our alienation from and interconnectedness with all that there is, the absurdity and redeeming possibility of embarking, and the tension between promise and risk.” The theme of alienation or exile is a common note that many read while studying the artist’s works. While waving his paintbrush like a maestro conducting the deliberate cadence in his voice, Martínez Celaya explains that “it’s become very hard not to have it be part of the narrative and part of the conversation. The sense of exile which people want to talk about all the time.” He looks at me and asks, “who is not in exile?” I hadn’t considered the otherness I had been feeling to be worthy of note but he continued,” Who is not in exile from family, in exile from the common idea of “you belong here?” How many people feel outside of that and outside of themselves?” As the words echo, I look down at my shirt and see the familiar Kriah, a black torn ribbon I have worn for the past thirty days while mourning the loss of the closest person in my life. I silently raised my hand that I too was in exile.
The inspiration for the title of Martínez Celaya’s Los Angeles exhibition arrived when he was re-reading “The Aeneid.” He writes that he encountered the passage in which “Aeneas, the Trojan hero on his way to founding Rome, observes a mural depicting the battle of Troy. A shaken Aeneas said: “sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangent,” whose most moving translation is “there are tears of things, and mortal matters touch the mind.” The determination that the mind is as fragile as the mortal flesh inevitably creates the “tears of things,” and so Martínez Celaya seeks to preserve the ideas which keep him faithful and the ideas that fuel his practice.
In the visions and revisions made on the page and canvas, Martínez Celaya becomes a messenger capturing the fleeting present and realizing it in a more permanent form. By painting, sculpting, writing, teaching, and publishing the artist anchors the truths that guide him and the ideas that he wrestles with. “The Tears of Things” delicately holds onto the precious moments of the past so that they do not recede further into the darkened corners of one’s own mind, but instead become a new territory to explore.