Enrique Martínez Celaya brings new exhibition to Baldwin Gallery
An ice skater about to leap, a person’s intense confrontation with theirself in a mirror, another watching a boat sink. In Enrique Martínez Celaya’s exhibition of new work at the Baldwin Gallery in Aspen, the artist scrutinizes these pivotal moments and turning points.
The only witnesses to these flashpoints in this work are the natural world and starry night skies.
“After the dividing moment, the past, the home, and who we were will be out of reach,” Martínez Celaya writes in a short essay on the works, “even if the new has yet to become or materialize.”
Titled “A Third of the Night” and opening Friday, the show is Celaya’s eighth exhibition at the Baldwin, where he has been exhibiting since the 1990s and where in 2019 he premiered a documentary about returning to his birthplace in Cuba. Based in Los Angeles, he has also long been a summertime fixture at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, where his lectures inspired the 2015 book “On Art and Mindfulness: Notes from the Anderson Ranch.”
Celaya’s artwork is rooted in philosophy and in ideas — he teaches both philosophy and poetry at the University of Southern California — often portraying collisions of man and nature, asking the big existential questions and offering some complex answers.
The 12 paintings and one sculpture in “A Third of the Night” are no exception. The paintings are layered thick on canvas with materials like tar, feathers, fabric and glitter. Most of them were completed in the past year, as the novel coronavirus pandemic changed daily life around the world.
As public health restrictions have forced solitude and self-examination on people, the artist noted, there has been a surge in interest in his work from collectors and institutions. He believes it results from more people forced to confront the questions with which his work is concerned, forced to give up the exterior validation of social life and instead face the interior psychological minefield of quarantine.
“This reality we are living in caught up with the things that I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Martínez Celaya said this week from Los Angeles over Zoom. “For many people, as their interior life became a bigger part of their day-to-day thinking, they had many questions: What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What’s the purpose?”
What: Enrique Martínez Celaya, ‘A Third of the Night’
Where: Baldwin Gallery
When: Friday, Feb. 12 through Sunday, March 14; opening reception Friday 6-8 p.m.
More info: baldwingallery.com
All of the works here include stars and night skies filled with imagined constellations. Some make fascinating use of mirrors, both as a subject (as in “The Mirror,” in which a boy contemplates his own reflection in a field of sunflowers under a starlit sky) and as a material (like the crudely placed mirror shards and pieces included in “The Velvet” and “The Yearning,” both times used as a vertical border for paintings of starry night skies).
It includes works smaller in scale than usual for the artist — one measuring just a square foot — and some surprising use of color. If you’ve gotten to know Celaya’s work through exhibitions at the Baldwin, you will notice a pretty radical disruption of the artist’s signature muted palate here. In “The Secret Life,” a pair of glowing rainbow-colored elk or deer horns float against a seascape and night sky. A similar range of color shines out of a diamond in “The Lightsmith.”
“I’m always trying to put color in the paintings and it rarely survives,” Martinez Celaya explained. “I have made some colorful paintings and when I see them, I always think, ‘You know, I should make more paintings like that, because I like the disruptive quality of color use sort of against itself.’ But it doesn’t happen often.”
The title of the show comes from the Book of Revelation, nodding maybe to the apocalyptic spirit of our moment in global history. Though shock of the pandemic and its attendant crises aren’t a subject of his new paintings and sculpture, current events couldn’t help but shape some of it.
“I think inevitably it’s manifested directly and indirectly in the work,” Martínez Celaya said, “but my own life hasn’t changed dramatically in the sense that I go from the house to the studio and back to the house.”
It has delayed the artist’s normally busy exhibition and lecturing schedule and curtailed his travel (no extended summer Aspen stay in 2020, for instance). Events are starting to line up again, however. In early February he opened a new show in Berlin, though he couldn’t go in-person, and he will be in Aspen for a short visit for the Baldwin opening this weekend, while preparing for later 2021 exhibitions in Italy, Spain, at the Fisher Museum in Los Angeles and for a 2022 installation at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth University.
After such a long stretch of being homebound during the public health crisis, he is a bit hesitant to get back to the grind.
“It’s a very busy next six months,” he said. “I’m excited about it. But also, the luxury of having all this time to think — I miss it a little bit already.”