Enrique Martínez Celaya‘s two exhibitions for both of Jack Shainman galleries just closed over the weekend. The two-part exhibition, “Empires: Sea” on 20th Street, and “Empires: Land” on 24th Street, beautifully blended reality, fantasy, and memory. For the shows, the artist dug into the individual search for authenticity and belonging, the tensions between possibility and regret, and the consequences of a stunted inner life.
Martínez Celaya used the land as a metaphor for what is known—either as an embarkment or as a destination—and the exhibition delicately deals with love, loneliness, despair, or dreams, in works like The Crown, The Dreamer, and The Beginning. To know more about Martínez Celaya‘s artistic approach, Whitewall spoke with the artist.
WHITEWALL: How did you get your start in the art world?
ENRIQUE MARTÍNEZ CELAYA: Most artists have many starts before the official start. In my case, the official start was Dorothy Goldeen‘s invitation to join her gallery in Los Angeles after I finished my MFA in 1994. The other, more modest, starts included inviting a few people to watch me destroy a painting while my friend Ching sang an opera, selling my works in the parks of San Francisco, and doing projects that no one saw. These other starts were often also endings, but they showed me many aspects of the art world and helped me understand who I was in relation to them.
WW: How did you become interested in physics? What interests you the most about the topic now?
EMC: As a boy I liked math and I was curious about how the world worked, then in high school I became interested in quantum physics and built a laser. I wanted to understand the nature of things and I loved the elegance of math and physics, which made me feel my life was more elegant, more organized, than it really was. I am still drawn to physics, especially quantum electrodynamics and astrophysics.
WW: When did you begin writing? Why is it important for you to include writing alongside your pieces of art?
EMC: I started writing when I was 11 or 12 in response to the novels, stories, and philosophy I was reading. My first writings were essays on religion, adolescence, and physics. I also wrote a few short stories. Since then I have moved between art and writing, and sometimes physics, to understand what is happening around me. Internally, I don’t make big distinctions between these interests, but they do operate differently in the world, so the decision to include writings alongside the artwork depends on the situation.
WW: On the topic of “Selling Out” you encourage people to “be vigilant” and “recognize the choices you are making and why you are making them”—what is an example of you recognizing your choices, and pushing forward?
EMC: Selling out is a state of mind where excuses and accommodations replace truth and courage. It has to do with the choices we make and what we fight for, and each person has to decide what is right—usually every day, and sometimes several times in one afternoon. In my case, I am skeptical of most claims, especially my own, and I lean towards choices that keep things clear. I try not to participate in group shows, I work with people I respect, I don’t let my assistants make my paintings, and I don’t make twenty versions of a certain work.
WW: What is one thing that you want the audience of “Empires: Sea” and “Empires: Land” to know? To experience? To remember 10 years from now?
EMC: I would like the visitors to the exhibitions to know I wasn’t art fair courtesan or a bitter clown, and that I tried to make something that mattered to me in the hope it would also matter to a few of them. Beyond that, it’s difficult to speak of the experience other than to say I would like the visitors to spend enough time in the spaces to notice the whole thing wasn’t thrown together. In terms of longevity, it would be good enough for me if in 10 years three or four of these visitors remember—even if vaguely—the journeys and endings of Empires.