Uuban artist Enrique Martínez Celaya uses art as a means to better understand the world and his place within it. The Cliff at Liverpool Street Gallery is a continuation of his exploration of the human spirit and reflects the fragility of humanity within the brutality of nature. The overwhelming search for home and a potent struggle for existence can be seen throughout Celaya’s work and such a sombre subject is presented with humility and skill, often transforming the plight of human struggle into a thing of beauty.
There is a sense throughout The Cliff that the audience is being taken on a personal journey into the artist’s subconscious with each work representing a hurdle to be overcome. This is particularly evident in The Giant Cliff where a small boy navigates precariously amongst rocks in the ocean. A lantern hangs from his left hand, a symbol of hope in uncharted waters. While it appears as if these rocks are small and insignificant, the stance of the boy and the care with which he walks would suggest otherwise. The work alludes to an inner torment that makes the figure hesitate, poised on the edge of a cliff. We see this figure repeated in the delicate watercolour The Parting, his lantern a beacon in the darkness.
This notion of struggle is especially apparent in The Music as a male figure on crutches moves with his ‘home’ strapped to his back, literally crushing him as he battles to discover who he is and where he’s from. The Sunrise also highlights this lone figure with bright watercolours on mulberry paper. While less detailed, Celaya still manages to capture the sense of desolation and solidarity of the figure. Perhaps this figure is a representation of the artist himself, the weight on his shoulders a longing for identity.
Birds and houses are reoccurring themes throughout The Cliff and are both apparent in The Breaking. Distinctive from the other works in the exhibition, The Breaking is a representation of the everyday and delivers a degree of hope in an otherwise dark and overwhelming exhibition. In this work life is flourishing and healthy, forming a direct contrast to the struggle of The Music. The two birds are sharing food, completely aligned with nature and utterly content with the world around them. In a largely figurative exhibition, this work stands out and is somewhat out of place is a show dominated by feelings of melancholy.
The Last Reason is an evocative watercolour which, upon closer inspection, has been cut out and transferred onto a plain white background. A bare birch tree, a common theme throughout Celaya’s work, shelters a young girl feasting on a bird. The bright red of the bird is startling against the darkness of the girl’s skin and there is a sinister innocence, not unlike a Brothers Grimm Fairytale, that influences the work. Cloaked in mysticism, the girl appears like the angel of death cleverly disguised under the illusion of child-like wonder. Despite its gruesome undertones there is something beautiful in her struggle for survival. Her unabashed hunger is steeped in a naivety that is evident throughout the entire exhibition.
Nature is unpredictable and untamed and it is this wild beauty which makes the work of Celaya so engaging. He does not try to control the nature that he creates; instead there is a distinct sense of uncontrollability within the work and the figures inhabiting the landscape. The boundaries between humanity and nature are increasingly ambiguous and there is an eternal darkness throughout the artist’s work that is tempered by a sense of hope and a degree of faith in the human spirit. Through The Cliff the artist attempts to convey the idea that as humans we may fall down but within each of us is the strength to persevere and pull ourselves back up.
Liverpool Street Gallery 23 April – 19 May 2011