Robischon Gallery is pleased to present the gallery’s first solo exhibition of highly acclaimed Cuban-born artist and author Enrique Martínez Celaya: “The Boy: Witness and Marker 2003 – 2018.” The extensive presentation, selected and curated by the artist, investigates Martínez Celaya’s re-emerging theme of a boy and the psychic or philosophical forces which surround. Unfolding with a strong sense of the chronological, the new and earlier works reflect a poetic exploration into the nature of vulnerability, power, confidence and fear, while allowing the physicality of each medium employed – oil and wax, bronze, watercolor, wood, tar and straw – to carry with it a sense of the ineffable. Martínez Celaya states, “Since the mid-90s I have been using the image of a boy coming of age, still moored in childhood, but already half-embarked on that journey to adulthood from which he will not return. This reference has appeared in my paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, and writings, and the exhibition at Robischon Gallery is the first one dedicated to the boy as image, concept and metaphor. It is an expansive effort bringing together work from 2003 to the present, including paintings and sculptures that have never been seen before.”
Beginning the exhibition on a reflective note, one of the earliest works is a large-scale photograph on canvas titled Boy at the Shore from 2005. The boy stands on a beach as if in a trance, wearing pajamas of embroidered blue flowers on white diaphanous fabric, his back to the vast ocean behind. The sheer fabric draws attention to the poignant vulnerability of the small child in clothing that offers little privacy or protection from the elements. Located next to the photograph is a work entitled Vitrine with Flowers, 2005, comprised of a similar pair of pajamas embellished with pinkish-red blossoms. In its proximity to Boy at the Shore, Vitrine with Flowers heightens a shared sense of absence with the filmy fabric akin to a vitrine, as the title suggests, a transparent vessel alluding to the illusion of permanence.
Within many of Martínez Celaya’s exhibited works throughout the gallery, the boy can be found primarily alone and in a variety of allegorical scenes. Briefly described here, a captivating painting from 2015 titled The Prince, the boy’s image is richly layered with arms upstretched and hanging from a verdant, leafy tree branch at sunset. The boy holds the viewer in his gaze – suspended, attentive to the present moment. Nearby, in an impressive oil and wax painting from 2013 - 2015, The Relic and the Pure, a swim-suited boy rests his head upon the pink-tinged white underbelly of a large sea skate on a broad wooden surface. An evocative script element, in Spanish, reveals itself to read, “the fire of the wings to overcome loneliness and absence.”
Culminating the exhibition with both The Traveler, 2016 and The Wager (or The Dreamer), 2018, Martínez Celaya animates the signifier of the boy through the sculpture’s elemental materials: a tree branch, tar and straw, alongside the painting’s potent image of the boy’s arising. Between ground and heaven, the bird forms offer an integration of the two, as nature and spirit become one. As evidenced within the exhibition’s twenty-one artworks, Martínez Celaya’s pursuit of territory that is both relatable and ambiguous, invites the viewer to expansively consider and decide whether the boys’ environments are reflective of the imagination of a child or something else entirely. The artist writes of his subject, “As I understand him, the boy is weary and excited, and he knows both less and more than he thinks he does. He is somewhat aware of the possibilities and risks that come with pulling away from the land of childhood, but he cannot know the storms ahead nor has he tested his resolve or his resilience. Those boys who are familiar with disenchantment might already be acquainted with doldrums and hurricanes, as well as with their own limits, but even these precocious princes of bruises cannot anticipate all that awaits. The boy’s body and his heart are summoned by the future, though his mind, his algebra of categories and understandings so shaped by the past, is likely to lag behind.”
In these select works and in many past series in which Martínez Celaya’s boys, as well as girls, are his subjects, children are juxtaposed with different elements or fragments intuitively driven by the artist’s poetic sensibility and the corporeality of his materials. Disparate references offer the viewer another way in, as does the quality of the artist’s canvas surfaces with their contrasting applications of pigments, undefined borders and the unexpected use of tar and straw in the sculpture. While the subjects reflect a coming-of-age and the shaping of identity, they also spark broader notions of life’s transitions and the promise of change. Martínez Celaya is unafraid to acknowledge a sense of vulnerability in all his subjects – and in turn, a desire for contemplation and awareness is required to receive it. With his haunting imagery, use of language and a compelling sensitivity toward the materials, the artist references that which exists beyond the boy as well as the edge of the canvas. Reflective of all media in some sense, but speaking to both subject and approach in painting, Martínez Celaya concludes, “Painting itself participates in this becoming, and as such, the boy can be understood as an allegory for painting—or better yet, as a stand-in for painting. Painting exists in that middle ground between illusion and truth, and in the case of representational painting, meaning comes to be in the space between what a painting seems to be and what it is: it is paint and it is a boy, it is the appearance of a horizon and the move of a brush. Painting, like the boy, is that state of being that is both moored by the materials of paint and its history, and summoned away by the possibility of truths still to be unconcealed.”
Enrique Martínez Celaya is an artist, author, and former scientist whose work has been exhibited and collected by major institutions around the world, and he is the author of books and papers in art, poetry, philosophy, and physics. He is the first person to hold the position of Provost Professor of Humanities and Arts at the University of Southern California. He is a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College and a Fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. Martínez Celaya has created projects and exhibitions for the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., and the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, Germany among many others, as well as for institutions outside of the art world, including the Berliner Philharmonie, the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York, and the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery in Berlin. Work by the artist is held in 48 public collections internationally, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford. His recognition and awards include the Roth Family Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth College, the National Artist Award from the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, the California Community Foundation Fellowship, J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts, and the Young Talent Award from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His work has been the subject of several monographic publications including Enrique Martínez Celaya, 1992-2000 published by Wienand Verlag (Köln), Enrique Martínez Celaya: Working Methods published by Ediciones Polígrafa (Barcelona), and most recently Martínez Celaya, Work and Documents 1990-2015 published by Radius Books (Santa Fe). He is the author of several books including, Collected Writings and Interviews 1990-2010 and The Nebraska Lectures, both published by the University of Nebraska Press, and On Art and Mindfulness: Notes from the Anderson Ranch, published by Whale & Star Press, as well as the artist book Guide, which was later serialized by the magazine Works & Conversations.
Martínez Celaya was born in Cuba and raised in Spain and Puerto Rico. He initiated his formal training as an apprentice to a painter at the age of 12 and developed what was to become an enduring interest in writing and philosophy in the turbulent Puerto Rican cultural and political environment of the 1970s. He received a Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics and a minor in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University, and a Master of Science with a specialization in Quantum Electronics from the University of California, Berkeley where he was a Regents Fellow. He conducted part of his graduate research at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and while there he painted the Long Island landscape. He published scientific papers on superconductivity and lasers, is the inventor of several patented laser devices and completed all coursework for his doctorate and a significant part of his dissertation before his decision to devote more time to art. He attended the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture and earned an MFA with the department's highest distinction from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was also a junior fellow at the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center. Martínez Celaya's previous academic appointments include a tenured faculty position at Pomona College and the Claremont Graduate University, the second Presidential Professorship in the history of the University of Nebraska, and the Cecil and Ida Green Honors Chair at Texas Christian University. He has offered lectures at venues around the world including the New York Public Library, the American Academy in Berlin, Denver Art Museum and the Aspen Institute. He is a member of the International Advisory Council at the Hispanic Society of America in New York, and an Artist Advisor at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado, where he previously served on its Board of Trustees.
Martínez Celaya and his studio have sponsored programs for children, provided scholarships for artists, and assisted schools in curricular development. In 1998, as an extension of his commitment to the education and formation of artists, Martínez Celaya founded Whale & Star Press, which publishes books on art, poetry, art practice, and critical theory, and whose titles can be found in bookstores, libraries, schools, universities, and museums throughout the world. He has worked in collaboration with scientists, entrepreneurs, writers, musicians, and architects, including the Canadian rock-band, Cowboy Junkies, the poet and Nobel-Prize-winning chemist, Roald Hoffmann, and the novelist Mary Rakow.