Artist Enrique Martínez Celaya is Summoned from on High
By Brett SOKOL
In one of the other paintings, a man stands embracing a horse, a nod to the biography of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who in 1889 came upon a horse being whipped in a town square. As legend has it, Nietzsche threw himself upon the horse’s body, desperate to stop the beating. Amid the subsequent commotion he collapsed. When he finally awoke, it was in an unhinged mental state that persisted until his death in 1900.
FROM LEFT: A 2007 installation in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick, Ireland, included the artist’s The Boy Raising His Arm; Martínez Celaya’s oil-on-canvas piece The Garden (Pasternak), 2009–2010
“There’s nothing in any of Nietzsche’s writings that indicated he was an animal lover,” Martínez Celaya offers. Indeed, Nietzsche, who notoriously glorified the Übermensch, had little compassion for the struggles of the common man, let alone his beasts of burden. “I found it to be a moving gesture, yet also a strange one. It didn’t fit. It was an apologetic gesture of a life that could’ve been lived differently. I like what that says not just about Nietzsche, but also about all of us. I think of all the times I wished I myself had stopped to hug that metaphoric horse.”
A dramatic path to redemption? Sure. But Martínez Celaya’s life is full of sharp turns. Born in Cuba in 1964, he and his family left for Spain, and later Puerto Rico, when he was a child. At 17 he moved to the United States to study physics at Cornell University, a track that immersed him in the world of superconductors and cuttingedge technology. On the verge of completing his PhD in quantum mechanics at the University of California, Berkeley, he abruptly changed course, trading in his array of lasers for an easel and a can of paint. Leaving behind his nonplussed colleagues at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, he eventually became a successful figure in the Los Angeles art firmament.
Yet LA also seems to have left him wanting more. So here he is in South Florida, having moved across the country with his wife and three young children (and a fourth due just in time for December’s Art Basel fair). Eight months into this relocation he remains ambivalent—as a Cuban exile who says he has never felt a connection with “celebrating the Calle Ocho aspects” of el exilio, as a Latino artist with little affinity for the locally dominant currents of Latin-American art, and as an art instructor suspicious of the Miami art world’s key boosters.
Still, while he continues to eschew the poetry of José Martí for that of the Romanian-Jewish exile Paul Celan, “It’s important that people in positions of power here are Latino. I want my children to grow up seeing that. In Los Angeles everything in Spanish was, ‘Don’t Step on the Grass!’ or, ‘There’s a Camera Watching You!’”
As for Miami’s status as a burgeoning art metropolis, “There are a lot of people with a lot of financial interest behind the idea of a ‘Miami School’ of art. The fact that a unique school of art will spontaneously develop because a city is close to the water, or has a particular nightlife, seems very unlikely. But these people are vested in trying to sell this idea to their constituencies. There’s always a price for that: Either it quickly cooks artists who need more time to develop, or it makes deserving artists invisible when they don’t fit within the ‘school.’”
Photographs by greg minasian (martínez celaya), sculpture courtesy of la louver gallery, los angeles; courtesy of whale & star (painting, installation); painting courtesy of simon lee gallery, london
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.