The Stranger’s Song – The Brooklyn Rail

In view

Miles McCenery Gallery
Enrique Martínez Celaya: The Stranger’s Song
September 8 – October 15, 2022
New York

An expanse of black is splashed with white. A figure walks below, turning, as if momentarily, to salute. Her reflection is caught in a puddle at her feet; above him are large flowers and a vague map. The white dots are not stars, but they guide us to the concept of the night sky. CG Jung deduced that archetypes exist within each of us. Our starry nights sparkle with ancient cosmic formations that can be understood, and as they are, we begin to discover our place among them. This table is titled The traveler’s dream (2022).

Show by Enrique Martínez Celaya The stranger’s song, features paintings and drawings that consider the position of the outsider as they attempt to bridge the dislocation between past and present, while moving into the abyss of the future. Celaya’s approach to painting is based on his work as a writer, philosopher and physicist. References are taken from mythology, folklore, science and the artist’s own autobiography. Although the entire show tells Celaya’s story, no names, locations or details are disclosed.

If we had to compare the visual aspects of Celaya’s work to other artists, we could mention Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith or Anselm Kiefer. The paintings are large and filled with stars, flowers and mythical creatures. Like Keifer, Celaya incorporates found objects into her paintings. But his imagery is steeped in the folk and fairytale archetypes of childhood in the form of magical lions made of stars and stairways in the sky. The scenes, however, are suggestions, painted with loose, immediate strokes, as if in the middle of an action. The quality of this energetic work gives the impression that the subjects are about to move on, to come out, the flowers are about to die. Everything moves. The works grapple between the archetypal and simultaneously real struggles, and the profound strength and hope that this life journey entails. Many paintings are set on bricks, so close to the ground that they could almost be portals.

The ice cart (2022) is perhaps the most haunting image in the series. It has a direct political connotation, placing the painting in time and space. Laika, the Russian dog who was sent on a one-way trip into space, is centered at the top of the frame with wreaths around her neck. These references pull the viewer into global narratives about communism and the implications of the need for steady and rapid progress. This painting, with its distinct cultural image, has been transformed into a shrine with flowers above the map of a medieval city, with crystal-shaped streets. The images stick in our heads, the little stories play like impossible loops: a dog going one way through space. The supreme tragedy of the incident enveloped by the ecstatic progression from which it emerged is heartbreaking. Yet this creature goes, impossible, into the unknown.

El principio y el final (The beginning and the end) (2022) presents a heaviness. On a canvas glued with roses, which are painted with the color of the background, a long-necked bird, a swan perhaps, with a red castle attached to its neck, flies through turbulent waters. The sky is burning, the sun may be rising, it may be a disaster. I can’t help but think of the constant redemption of the swan in fairy tales, of the The ugly Duckling with changed bodies Children of Lir. The swan is reputed to be mute, but persistent and intensely beautiful. Yet in their curse, the swan carries fairy tale characters across the expanse, through extreme discomfort, home. This time, the flowers do not disturb the scene, but retain the color of the image, like lenses, they imbue the painting with a deeper feeling: ethereal gifts in the sky.

There is a quote on the artist’s hand, how you can feel it. Celaya shows her process in these paintings. The result can be haunting, a ghostly presence on the canvas. This process is part of the job. Thus the paintings live. “Like dry streambeds whose shape determines the characteristics of a river” (Jung). Like a song in the air, waiting to be sung.

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