November 25, 2008

Enrique Martínez Celaya: "Shiny paint makes me feel like I can’t breathe"

In the NY Times, Jori Finkel profiles Enrique Martínez Celaya, whose show recently opened in LA. "The questions he explores in painting (and in his related writings) belong to religion and philosophy: the meaning of life and death, the purpose of consciousness, and what it means to be good or do good. He is as likely to talk about Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein, or Herman Melville and Paul Celan, as Joseph Beuys and Lucian Freud. Although he shows regularly with John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco and Sara Meltzer in New York (and has a retrospective that will open next year at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg), he recognizes that he is not exactly of the moment. 'So many contemporary paintings have this wink to say we’re both in on the joke,' he said. 'Any time I find myself being witty or clever, I paint over it.'

"For all of the paintings in his studio that day, he relied on the same basic technique. He mixed wax into oil paint (about a 1-to-3 ratio), building up one thin layer after another to achieve a matte finish and translucency of color. ('Shiny paint makes me feel like I can’t breathe,' he said.) Some paintings have as many as 20 layers. In the process he often painted over shapes or even human figures so that the finished canvas could contain less by way of content than it once did. One muddy, mountainous painting originally showed a boy sitting off to one corner holding the head of a deer. Now both the boy and head are gone. In another canvas a boy stands in a deep field of dandelions, his face popping out like an overgrown flower. But the more you look, the less the image yields. There is no expressive or virtuosic brush stroke, and little realistic detail, to flesh out the figure or reveal the boy’s age or size. Mr. Martínez Celaya said it was intentional. 'There’s not enough there to hold you emotionally. You begin to sink into a black hole.'

“'It’s strange to love painting and be so much anti-painting,' he added. 'I’m not interested in luscious, sexy, virtuosic painting, but the destruction of the image, undermining the certainty of the image.'” Read more.

"Enrique Martínez Celaya," L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice, CA. Through Jan. 3.

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