left: photo Walter Kennedy [detail]
The title of the painting on the cover of issue #9 gave us our theme, The Veil
. It could have been “Exile.” Both Enrique Martínez Celaya and Erik d’Azevedo have experienced cultural dislocation. Exile and veil both imply separation; one of loss—home left behind—the other of something covered over. And both provide points of departure for considering the work gathered here.
Martínez Celaya, born in Cuba, emigrated to Spain, then to Puerto Rico and then to the United States. In his own words, “Whether I’m in the United States or in a Spanish country, I’m always two people, one happy to be there and one who’s a foreigner.”
, as a child, was taken to live in Liberia. Although his family returned to the United States, the experience changed him from that point on. As he says, “I’ve felt ever since then that I never quite fit into American culture.”
These comments can serve as a starting point for reflection about the condition of dislocation, separation and estrangement. With “Self & Beyond Self,” the title for the Martínez Celaya interview
, suggests another way to look at it. The work of Martínez Celaya is rooted in the perennial question implicit in the Socratic call to know one’s self. Who am I
? This question can open upon unimagined depth and bear relationship to the great religious traditions. Our estrangement from the knowledge of our deeper nature goes beyond the specifics of cultural dislocation. Each of us is grounded in mystery.
photo by Walter Kennedy
As Martínez Celaya writes in Guide
, “I have continued considering the ideas of Schopenhauer, Heiddegger, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein.” His reading in western philosophy is considerable, and helps provide context for his statement in Guide
, that most current art is disappointing because its aims are too shallow and too self-conscious. “How,” Martínez Celaya asks, “can I find a way of living… where freedom and duty are not contradictions.”
The problem is not one that science can solve for us. If it could, perhaps the artist would have continued his career in quantum electronics.
What can ground an ethics today? Not particle physics. What can guide my own ethical choices? For Martínez Celaya, art is an exploration, which is never far from such basic questions.
A veil stands between the false and the true and deflects our attention and, if we can no longer use capital letters for our terms, at least let the claim be made that there’s a difference between the authentic and the inauthentic in ontological realm of living, which is where the work of Martínez Celaya is located. This is not the being of Aristotle, of eternal substance, but the realm of lived being.
If contemporary relativism is, as Martínez Celaya puts it in Guide,
“a drain through which all of the possibilities of art eventually will vanish”—then what could an antidote be?
The perennial questions have been with us for thousands of years and there’s a wisdom tradition which speaks to these questions. It tells us that the ontological realm of individual life is something like an unexplored forest, one that cannot be explored by proxy. Each of us in this forest is something like an exile. Yet there are myths, fairy tales and the teachings of the great religious traditions, which shed some light in this darkness. And what about art? Didn’t it once aspire to find its way to the edge of clearings in this realm?
Included here are two additional articles on Martínez Celaya and his work. Mary Rakow’s meditation is a revelation about the level to which writing on art can reach. And, as Patrice Wagner told me, “I gave Enrique his first one-man exhibit.” She has contributed a short recollection of her own.
Richard Berger’s meditation, “To All Artists Known and Unknown
,” can be seen as an example of a veil in terms of how little we really know each other and of lives lived in isolation. Sometimes that veil is pulled back a little to profound effect.
My own account of meeting artist Prentiss Cole is a story of a veil passed through, that of my own automatic reactions. And Kathleen Cramer’s “Gold Diggers of 2004” is what? Well, it’s about finding gold. Where to find it? Deep. Or maybe sometimes it’s hidden in plain view. Anyway, while the digging is going on, Cramer reminds us that it’s important to remember to have a good lunch.
Our three portfolios speak for themselves. The night photography of Walter Kennedy and the photogravures of Unai San Martin are evocative of the poetic face of the world always so much in eclipse beneath our day-to-day concerns. The birds and angels of Robert Brady provide a small window on the work of this Bay Area artist whose extensive body of work is often described as opening upon the archetypal. And, of course, we have the next episode in Rue Harrison’s adventures of Indigo Animal.
Welcome to issue #9.—rw