Many of the paintings offer scenes of disrupted journeys or the aftermath of significant episodes: stairs abandoned in fields, snow globes as souvenirs from elsewhere, tattoos that historicize the body, a glass house lost in a cluster of firs, apples frozen and rotting in the tree, and the underlying structure of columns left unfinished. These moments of abandonment and failure also contain the seed of possibility and renewal whose hopefulness echoes the artist's informed but non-cynical approach to art in general and to painting in particular. In The Folktale (2017), marble stairs are isolated in a grassy clearing; they don’t appear to lead anywhere and a fire burns in the distance, but colorful wildflowers sprout, birds flutter, and sunlight ripples suggesting hope and rebirth.
Nature is a theme throughout Martínez Celaya’s work. Trees recur often as stoic markers of the passage of time. Shelters are also a motif, signaling human presence amidst the rawness of the elements. The Accountant (2016) unites the manmade with its environment. The dwelling is rendered in clear glass or possibly ice, bringing attention to its mechanism of support and to the way it distorts its surroundings, encouraging the viewer to reflect not only on the image, but on the intellectual processes that underlie the work of art and the experience of looking itself.
In this sense, the juxtaposition of sometimes disparate references—for example, roses and rebar—evokes a poetic quality, yet resists identification with any specific narrative. Rather, the works refer to their own making and particular emphasis is given to the canvas’ surface and the physicality of paint; borders are left undefined, pigment smeared. Martínez Celaya, describing the ineffable quality of his work, stresses presence over referent: “The conviction of the scenes is put in question by the way the paint doesn’t reach the edges. This quality of the edges also problematizes the ‘framing’ of the world suggested by the paintings—my paintings are not windows to a world but all that there is.”