Enrique Martinez Celaya

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Enrique Martínez Celaya
The artist in the Miami studio, 2013
Born 9 June 1964
Habana, Cuba
Nationality Cuban American
Education University of California, Santa Barbara
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture
University of California, Berkeley
Cornell University
Known for Painting, sculpture, photography, poetry, writing
Website martinezcelaya.com

Enrique Martínez Celaya (born 9 June 1964) is a contemporary artist who works in painting, sculpture, photography, poetry, and prose, presented in contexts known as "environments." His artistic work examines the complexities and mysteries of individual experience, particularly in its relation to nature and time, and explores the question of authenticity revealed in the friction between personal imperatives, social conditions, and universal circumstances. These examinations often result in comprehensive projects addressing memory, familiarity, attachment, love, death, and longing. Although his thinking is influenced by literature and philosophy, his work regards the subjective experience of everyday life rather than the nature of trends in cultural practices.

Life and art[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Tower of Snow, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Enrique Martínez Celaya was born in Habana, Cuba on June 9, 1964. He was uprooted at age eight to move with his family to Spain. Three years later, they moved to Puerto Rico, where he was apprenticed to painter Bartolomé Mayol. His childhood experience of exile plays a formative role in his artistic practice.

Martínez Celaya came to the United States in 1982 as a physics student. He received a B.S. in applied physics from Cornell University in 1986 and pursued doctoral work in quantum electronics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1989. He built a laser, received prizes from the Department of Energy and the National Congress of Science, and achieved recognition and patents for his work at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Electronics Research Laboratory in Berkeley. While pursuing his research on lasers and laser delivery systems he continued to paint and write. On the verge of completing his doctorate in physics, Martínez Celaya abandoned his studies to pursue painting as a career, earning an M.F.A. with honors from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He received a fellowship to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

Work and selected exhibitions[edit]

Martínez Celaya uses simple imagery heavy with symbolism, such as a solitary human figure in the landscape, birds, deer, rainbows, dogs, and apples heavy with snow. Despite these representational images, his work resists narrative and moves towards the iconic. It draws from the prose of Jorge Luis Borges, Herman Melville, and Lev Tolstoy; the poetry of Paul Celan, Osip Mandelstam, Harry Martinson, and José Saramago; the philosophy of Schopenhauer, Martin Heidegger, Hegel, and Ludwig Wittgenstein; the paintings of Velasquez, Caspar David Friedrich, and Ferdinand Hodler; Kurt Schwitters's Hanover Merzbau; the social practice of Joseph Beuys and Paulo Freire; the films of Andrei Tarkovsky; and the music of Bach.

A Wasted Journey, A Half-Finished Blaze, Galleri Andersson/Sandström, Stockholm, Sweden

A Wasted Journey, A Half-Finished Blaze, Galleri Andersson/Sandström, Umeå, Sweden (2014): The exhibition showcases five new paintings and a sculpture of a bronze boy encrusted with large jewels crying onto a bed of pine needles. The work is a continuation of the artist's exploration of memory, suffering, longing for radiance, loneliness, and the possibility of art to be relevant to life.

The Pearl, SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico, (2013): This immersive environment in the gallery's 15000 square feet includes painting, sculpture, video, photography, waterwork, sound, and writing, as well as the artist's first musical arrangement. Citing aspects of the domestic as well as of the epic, of the small arcs of individual histories as well as the big arc of time, the environment unearths memories seemingly left behind, and through this unearthing intimates there are secrets inherent in everything, particularly the familiar.

Boy with Horse, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NewYork

The Crossing, The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, New York (2010): This series of four monumental paintings, made especially for and in response to the nave of the cathedral, tests art's metaphysical and ethical potential.

Daybreak, L.A. Louver, Venice, California (2009): The environment consists of thirteen paintings and two sculptures that use the relationship of the solitary human figure to the vast and stark landscape to reflect on the nature and structure of experience, recollection, and aspiration.

Nomad series in progress in Miami studio

Nomad, Miami Art Museum, Miami, Florida (2007): The exhibition consisted of five large-scale, oil-and-wax paintings, which explore issues of exile and rootlessness through the seasons. Inspired by the works of Swedish poet and Nobel Prize laureate Harry Martinson, the paintings evoke a dream-like state of suspension in which the exile lives: time passes and yet nothing changes.

Coming Home, the Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2006): A re-installation and re-interpretation of Coming Home (2000), this sculptural group that consists of a boy and a gigantic deer. It was donated to the museum by well-known German collector Dieter Rosenkranz in honor of the University of Nebraska's commitment to Martínez Celaya's work. The sculpture group was presented within an ambitious photographic environment.

Schneebett, Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany.

Schneebett, Berliner Philharmonie in Berlin, Germany (2004): The final stage in the artist’s Beethoven cycle, this large-scale installation uses Beethoven's deathbed as a means to reflect on the integrity of life decisions in confrontation with the finality of death. The project also included performances by the orchestra and a public lecture sponsored by the American Academy in Berlin. The installation was recreated as the inaugural exhibition for the Rosenkranz Kubus at the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, Germany (2006). With its focus on human frailty, it served as a counterpoint to Max Klinger's sculpture of Beethoven as a nationalist hero which is on view nearby.

Enrique Martinez Celaya is represented in Europe by Galeria Joan Prats (Barcelona) and Galleri Andersson/Sandström (Stockholm); in the United Kingdom by Parafin (London); and in the United States by L.A. Louver (Venice, California), John Berggruen Gallery (San Francisco), and Jack Shainman (New York).


Martínez Celaya was awarded the Brookhaven National Laboratory Fellowship (1986–1988), and was Interdisciplinary Humanities Fellow and Regents Fellow from the University of California (1992–94). He received Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Art Here and Now Award (1998), the Hirsch Grant (2002), the Rosa Blanca Award from the Cuban Community (2002), and the California Community Foundation Fellowship, Getty Foundation Award (2004). He was honored with the Inaugural Colorado Contemporary Arts Collaborative Artist Residency at the CU Art Museum, sponsored by Kent and Vicki Logan (2004). He also received the Anderson Ranch Arts Center National Artist Award (2007). Recent awards include the Knight Foundation Grant (2013), and he was named Montgomery Fellow, Dartmouth College (2014), as well as the Cecil and Ida Green Honors Chair, Texas Christian University (2014).


In 1994, Martínez Celaya was appointed Assistant Professor of Painting at Pomona College and the Claremont Graduate University, where he taught until 2003, when he resigned his tenured position of Associate Professor. He continues to be a popular and influential teacher throughout the country. He is currently a faculty member and board member at the well-known Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village, Colorado. He was also appointed Visiting Presidential Professor at the University of Nebraska (2007–2010), where he was to develop interdisciplinary conversations between artistic, religious, scientific, philosophical, and literary practice. In addition to these appointments, Martínez Celaya has lectured at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Aspen Institute, Joslyn Museum of Art (Omaha, Nebraska), Miami Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, Hope Center (Richmond, Virginia), and the Berliner Philharmonie and the American Academy in Berlin.


Martínez Celaya joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at Cornell University, and through that organization, the Irving Literary Society.[1]

Whale and Star Press[edit]

Martínez Celaya founded Whale and Star in 1998, a publishing house that specializes in art and its relationship to other intellectual and creative fields, especially literature and philosophy. The University of Nebraska Press serves as Whale and Star's primary distributor. Recent titles include:

  • Joy Goswami: Selected Poems (2014). Collection of Joy Goswami's poetry in English translation, with an introduction by Noble Prize winner, Roald Hoffmann. ISBN 978-0-9799752-7-1.
  • Cowboy Junkies: The Nomad Series (2010). The most recent iteration of an intimate and unique collaboration between the Canadian band Cowboy Junkies and Enrique Martínez Celaya consists of a four-volume album project inspired by 'Nomad', a series of paintings on view at the Miami Art Museum in 2007. The first two albums, Renmin Park and Demons, have been released to critical acclaim. Hardcover. ISBN 978-0-9799752-6-4.
  • Intimations: Selected Poems by Anna Akhmatova (2009). Collection of Anna Akhmatova's poetry in English translation, translated by James E. Falen and edited by Kevin M.F. Platt. ISBN 978-097997523-3.
  • The Blog: Bad Time for Poetry (2009). Compilation of Enrique Martínez Celaya's blog, Bad Time for Poetry which began on August 24, 2007 and ended on May 25, 2009. ISBN 978-097997522-6.
  • Modernist Archaist (2008). Collection of Osip Mandelstam's poetry in English translation, edited by Kevin M.F. Platt. ISBN 978-0-9799752-0-2.
  • The Conversations (2007). Interviews with sixteen contemporary artists by Richard Whittaker, publisher and editor of the magazine works + conversations. ISBN 978-0-9673608-8-1.
  • XX: Cowboy Junkies (2006). Book of lyrics and photographs of the Cowboy Junkies, which also includes a suite of watercolors produced by the artist. ISBN 978-0-9673608-7-4.
  • Selections from Les Fleurs du Mal (2001). The artist assembled for the first time in an English publication poems selected from "Les Fleurs du Mal" and the full portfolio of 9 etchings from Odilon Redon's Les Fleurs du Mal, published by Henri Fleury, Paris, France, 1923. ISBN 0-9673608-3-8.

Martínez Celaya also created the watercolors for a children's book, The Return of the Storks, written by Lorie Karnath and published through Akira Ikeda Gallery in Berlin.


"Being ethical away from the world is easier than in the world. I think some people see the path of abstraction as pure, uncompromised, but it could just be avoidance; artists who insist on removing their work from human struggles take a tidy path, which seems especially wasteful for those whose lives are in turmoil and confusion."[2]

"Time is an insurmountable gap only negotiated through memory, remembrance, regret, longing, love. I think we are rarely blessed with the ability to see the present for what it is—all that there is."[3]

"Today, to claim any significance or meaning, even if only to ourselves, is to flirt with ridicule."[4]

"What I have tried to do with my works is to observe--poorly, but better than I would've without art--who I am, who others are, and what the world is."[5]

"Authenticity involves living with the anxiety of death and creates responsibility for Being; certainly the end means we are accountable in life. Or perhaps more concretely: we are accountable at every moment. The final judgment, so apparent in the bed-of-death, is not just at the end, but is always upon us--and every moment, our last."[6]


Martínez Celaya's work is in numerous public and private collections worldwide, including:

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Enrique Martínez Celaya: The Tower of Snow. Miami: Miami Dade College in collarboration with Whale & Star Press, 2014. Text by Dr. Eduardo J. Padron, Carlos Eire and interview with Jeremy Mikolajczak.
  • Enrique Martínez Celaya: The Pearl. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Radius Books, 2013. Text by Irene Hofmann.
  • Enrique Martínez Celaya: Working Methods/Metodos de trabajo. Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones Poligrafa, 2013. Text by Mary Rakow and Matthew Biro.
  • Honigman, Ana Finel. “Critic’s Picks: Enrique Martínez Celaya at SITE Santa Fe.” Artforum, 7 August 2013.
  • Wood, Eve. “Enrique Martínez Celaya: L.A. Louver.” Artillery, March/April, 2013: 47.
  • Shaw, Anny. “Hermitage buys Martínez Celaya’s first video.” The Art Newspaper, No. 231, January 2012: 6.
  • Wolff, Rachel. “Miami Ice: A View of Beethoven.” Wall Street Journal, 28 October 2011: D4.
  • Sokol, Brett. “Divine Aspiration.” Ocean Drive, September 2010: 122;124.
  • Batet, Janet. “Enrique Martínez Celaya.” ArtNexus, No. 76, Vol. 9, 2010: 105.
  • Ollman, Leah. “Enrique Martínez Celaya.” Art in America, Exhibition Reviews, March 2009: 153.
  • Finkel, Jori. "Layers of Devotion (and the Scars to Prove It)," The New York Times, Arts & Leisure, 23 Nov.: 30 AR.
  • All the Field is Ours. Santa Monica, Calif.: Griffin Contemporary, 2003. Text by Thomas McEvilley.
  • Jensen, Jay, ed. Enrique Martínez Celaya 1992-2000. Cologne, Germany: Winand, 2001. Text by Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Charles Merewether, and Howard Fox.
  • Martínez Celaya. Early Work Delray Beach, Florida: Whale and Star, 2006. Text by Daniel A. Siedell, Thomas McEvilley, Christian Williams, Enrique Martínez Celaya, and John Felstiner.
  • Martínez Celaya, Enrique. Berlin, Venice Beach, CA, Griffin Contemporary Exhibitions, 1998.
  • Martínez Celaya, Enrique. A Dress and a Dove for Her Marriage of Fire and Four Blankets to Keep Her from Burning, Santa Ana, CA : Daniel Arvizu Gallery, 1996.
  • Martínez Celaya, Enrique. Enrique Martínez Celaya, Paintings from 1994 and 1995, Santa Monica, Calif, Dorothy Goldeen Gallery, 1995.
  • Martínez Celaya, Enrique. Enrique Martínez Celaya, The October Cycle, 2000-2002, Lincoln, NE, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden in association with Marquand Books, 2003. Text by Martínez Celaya and Daniel A. Siedell.
  • Nomad. Delray Beach, Florida: Whale and Star and the Miami Art Museum, 2007. Text by Peter Boswell.
  • Ollman, Leah. "In a Silent Season," Art in America (May 2003): 132-33.
  • OPEN ev+a 2007—a sense of place. Oysterhaven, Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland: Gandon Editions, 2007. Text by Klaus Ottmann.
  • Poetry in Process. Boulder, Colorado: CU Art Museum, 2004. Text by Lisa Tamiris-Becker.
  • Siedell, Daniel A. "Enrique Martínez Celaya's Thing and Deception: The Artistic Practice of Belief," Religion and the Arts 10/1 (March 2006): 59-88.
  • Siedell, Daniel A. "Coming Home Before and After Schneebett," artUS 16 (Jan./Feb. 2007): 10-13.


  1. ^ Cornell University Residence Plan of 1966, Schedule I, Appendix A (May 3, 1966)(see sixth page of document noting the relationship between Phi Kappa Psi and the Irving Literary Society)); see also’’, List of Phi Kappa Psi/Irving Literary Society Members (Aug. 18, 2011).
  2. ^ Richard Whittaker (2004), A conversation with Enrique Martínez Celaya: Self and beyond self, works + conversations, retrieved 2008-04-25 [dead link]
  3. ^ L. Kent Wolgamott (2004), A conversation between L. Kent Wolgamott and Enrique Martínez Celaya, Lincoln Journal Star, retrieved 2008-04-25 [dead link]
  4. ^ Quoted in Daniel A. Siedell, "Enrique Martínez Celaya's Thing and Deception: The Artistic Practice of Belief," Religion and the Arts 10/1 (2006): 59.
  5. ^ "Schneebett Statement" in "EMC Comments" at www.martinezcelaya.com
  6. ^ "Self and Beyond Self: A Conversation with Enrique Martínez Celaya," works + conversations 9 (October 2004): 13.

External links[edit]