While portraiture has always been a key element within Martínez Celaya’s practice, this is the first time he has used it as the central thematic of a body of work. Martínez Celaya’s portraits, based on real people, are here presented without identification or reference to the subject’s biography, and often without relation to the paintings of nature against which they are juxtaposed. Typically, for Martínez Celaya these new works function on a number of different levels. While his paintings depict individuals — family members, poets, writers and musicians — who have significance for his personal and intellectual life, Martínez Celaya uses the process of making them to enact an interrogation of the possibilities and failures of the genre of portraiture as well as of painting itself. In this way these new works address the impossibility of representation, the tension between reality and illusion, and notions of memory, doubt, presence and absence. For Martínez Celaya they explore ‘the capacity of art to affect us, often precisely as a consequence of its failures’.
Since the early 1990s, working in a variety of media including painting, sculpture and installation, Enrique Martínez Celaya has created an extensive body of work characterised by allusive complexity. Using simple compositions and quasi-archetypal images — including the sea, animals and birds, children, landscapes and symbols of domesticity such as chairs and tables — Martínez Celaya blends fantasy, reality, and memory to create a poetic world that is both semi-autobiographical and resonantly universal. His work is an open-ended search for meaning and significance, proceeding from the personal to the public, evolving as distinct but interconnected bodies of work in profound thematic constructions. Eschewing narrative and conventional interpretation Martínez Celaya’s work thereby creates a matrix of rich conceptual possibilities and a striking openness to personal readings