Enrique Martinez Celaya’s ‘Notes From the Anderson Ranch’ | AspenTimes.com

Enrique Martinez Celaya’s ‘Notes From the Anderson Ranch’

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Artist Enrique Martinez Celaya has written a book titled "On Art and Mindfulness: Notes from the Anderson Ranch."
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

Who: Enrique Marinez Celaya

Where: Anderson Ranch, Snowmass Village

When: Wednesday, June 24, 12:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

More info: Registration required at http://www.andersonranch.org

Enrique Martinez Celaya was born in Cuba and is based in Los Angeles, but the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village has been an artistic summer home for the painter during the past decade.

Over the course of nine summers of workshops and lectures at Anderson Ranch from 2005 to 2013, one of Celaya’s attentive students transcribed his comments and criticism. Two years ago, she sent Celaya the transcripts, capturing a mix of prepared remarks, off-the-cuff comments and advice to artists during critiques, which Celaya has collected in a new book, “On Art and Mindfulness: Notes From the Anderson Ranch.”

Celaya returns to the artist colony today for a talk that launches the nine-part Anderson Ranch Summer Series.

“I like the feeling of the ranch, the people here — it’s really a love affair,” said Celaya, who now serves on the board of the ranch. “There’s an earnest quality to the whole thing.”

The spirit of the summer on the ranch, when it hosts some 150 workshops and world-renowned figures such as Celaya alongside aspiring artist hobbyists, is a unique environment.

“If you want, you can fail there,” Celaya said. “It’s important to do that, to commit with the possibility of failure. There’s something about the structure of Anderson Ranch that celebrates that and what it means to be an artist.”

Celaya, 51, has worked in paint, sculpture and in immersive installations, often grappling with the collisions of man and nature, using philosophy as a touchstone for the work. In a review of his most recent show at L.A. Louver, the Los Angeles Times dubbed Celaya “not just fluent but eloquent in a broad range of media.”

You can add writing to that range. “On Art and Mindfulness” reads more like spiritual philosophy than a transcribed series of art lectures. It doesn’t resemble the often impenetrable, jargon-choked prose of artist statements.

Celaya, who studied applied physics at Cornell University and began doctoral studies in quantum electronics before pursuing art, looked to the popular physicist and author Richard Feynman as a model for how to talk about art.

“His point was that if you love science, you should be able to explain it to a young kid,” he said. “The obfuscation in artist statement, some of that comes from a lack of clarity in the artist’s head. I try to recognize that in myself and work on what I know and what I don’t know — not that you ever know everything in the process of making art.”

As his Anderson Ranch workshops began taking shape as a book, he was wary of sounding as if he did know everything. He wanted it to mirror the back-and-forth of tackling questions surrounding intent and practice with fellow artists.

“I didn’t want it to be a book by a wise guru saying things,” he said. “I wanted it to be the kinds of things an artist does in a workshop while contending with these questions.”

How to work in the moment is the book’s unifying theme. It’s broken into eight sections on topics such as ethics, risk and failure, “Being an Artist” and “Art as Experience.”

Each section is filled with short, aphoristic pieces of writing, some as short as one sentence, none longer than a paragraph, broken up by silhouettes of birds. For example: “Language can be used to build other things. Art cannot be used this way. It is an end in itself;” “The viewer completes the endeavor. There is no work of art without the viewer;” “Wide acclaim is not needed for something to be true.”

The book reads like a “Tao Te Ching” for artists.

Celaya, for whom English is a second language, often looks to poets such as Robert Frost and Joseph Brodsky and novelists such as Herman Melville and Vladimir Nabokov for inspiration.

“Reading is a primary source for my work,” he said. “I read philosophy and literature and that is the universe I see my work in, even though I’m a visual artist. … Often when artists talk about writers, they’re talking about them as source of content. I’m reading them for a moral stance in the world. If I read Hemingway, it’s not so that I can put some fishing stories in my work.”

For his public lecture today, Celaya is contending with some new questions raised by new artwork. He is in the process of finishing a new body of work, opening at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York this fall, which he said is heading in a different direction from his art from the past two decades.

“I’m not a guy coming in with all issues settled, sharing the success story of his journey,” he said. “I’m in the middle of it and I want to convey some of that.”

The Anderson Ranch Summer Series continues with Hank Willis Thomas (July 2), Arlene Schechet (July 9), Jennifer and David Stockman (July 15), Frank Stella (July 16), Lisa Philips, Trevor Pagien and Ryan Trecartin (July 21), Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch (July 23), Alec Soth (Aug. 13) and McArthur Binion (Aug. 13).