Martínez Celaya: Early Work

2006. Text by Daniel A. Siedell, Thomas McEvilley, Christian Williams, Enrique Martínez Celaya and John Felstiner. 392 pages. 315 illustrations in color. Hardcover.

Enrique Martínez Celaya’s aesthetic project revives and reinterprets the classic Western metaphysical tradition that relates aesthetics to ethics, the Beautiful to the Good and the True. His aesthetic project embodies his belief that being a certain kind of artist means being a certain kind of person and that it is in and through art that he gains clarity about himself and his relationship to the world. This makes his aesthetic project profoundly ethical. And it also makes it, in important ways, spiritual.

Art is a means for Martínez Celaya to reconcile himself to the world as he reconciles his past with his present and projects his future. Early Work likewise participates in this process of reconciliation and projection by interpreting his aesthetic project through the series, cycles and projects that has defined his work since the mid-1990s. These series, cycles and projects consist of painting, sculpture, photographs, works on paper, poetry and prose.

Curator Daniel A. Siedell, who has worked with an artist on several projects, offers a radical commentary on his work. He argues that Martínez Celaya’s ambitious and expansive aesthetic project is best understood as an embodiment of a religious Weltanschauung. It is a search for that most elusive of religious virtues, hope. Early Work is not really about the artist’s past. It is about his future.


The complex and labyrinthine cohesion of Martínez Celaya’s aesthetic project is further explored by other writers, who set and reset the work in different contexts, revealing their distinctive engagement with it. Art critic Thomas McEvilley, who is a philologist by training and writes about art, philosophy and religion, explores how Celaya has combined Germanic feeling with a surrealist plastic vocabulary to “present a world.” Literary critic and Paul Celan scholar John Felstiner traces, ever so lightly, the contours of an aesthetic lineage that includes Goya, Eliot, Celan and Beethoven.

Former Washington Post journalist and Hollywood producer and writer Christian Williams adopts the conventional artist’s chronology to craft a powerful account of Martínez Celaya’s life, a life that has become intimately entwined with his own. With the artist’s collaboration in the compilation of images and his notes on the projects, which illuminate the depth of engagement behind the work, Early Work is an intimate examination of the aesthetic project of an artist of increasing relevance in  art.



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