Enrique Martinez Celaya: The Nebraska Suite

April 16 – June 5, 2011 —

During the three years that internationally recognized artist Enrique Martinez Celaya was Visiting Presidential Professor at the University of Nebraska, the land and sky of the Plains impacted both him and in turn, the artwork he created. The Nebraska Suite, comprised of 19 drawings and paintings, is the artist’s resulting work which eloquently speaks of the land that he, in time, was able to effectively communicate.

Nebraska’s geography – sparse and apparently simple in form – is complex in its history as it was centrally entwined in the country’s story of 19th century exploration and westward expansion. The Nebraska Suite references this pivotal period and yet serves as a moving and understated narrative which ties that history to the present. In the vein of Artist-Explorers of the 1800s (the Lewis and Clark journals, the sketches of Titian Ramsay Peale, Heinrich Möllhausen, and Albert Bierstadt), there is a feeling of discovery within the drawings, and sometimes a search for an intangible within the tangible. Additionally, there is a deep sense of poetry within these works that circle around history – a story that can be told about the settling of this land and the wonder that the vast meeting of earth and sky on the Plains can yet instill.

The Suite begins with faint but attentive pencil sketches of the land. They become darker with graphite filling more space when sky or ground is rendered. Color starts to appear and a beautiful sense of poetry is wholly evident (especially in works such as #5 where two deer gently touch heads underneath a light wash of a two-color rainbow overhead – an allusion to Bierstadt’s painting Life and Death). The Suite then becomes heavier and imagery of fire and billowing smoke appears. The works build on each other, almost in prose form with a beginning, middle, and end, moving from discovery and enchantment to reality and hardship, and then a return to the land with a burst of sun (#16), a light in the darkness, and finally as it stands today – a mix of old and new, heavily trodden and used but yet with life and green (#19).

Enrique Martinez Celaya was born in Cuba in 1964 and spent his childhood in both Spain and Puerto Rico. He attended Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, where he majored in applied physics. At the University of California, Berkeley, he pursued a Ph.D. degree in quantum electronics but abandoned this for pursuits in art. After attending the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, Skowhegan, Maine, he received his Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has served as Associate Professor of Art at Pomona College, Claremont, California, and at Claremont Graduate University. Celaya also taught at Anderson Ranch Arts Center Workshop, Snowmass, Colorado, and was awarded the prestigious Anderson Ranch National Artist Award. In 1998, he founded Whale and Star Press that publishes books on art, poetry, art practice, and critical theory.