“He always thought of the sea as ‘la mar’ which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as ‘el mar’ which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.” so wrote Ernest Hemingway in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, written in 1951 in Cuba and published a year later.
The restless seas and stormy skies of Cuba are themes to which the artist Enrique Martinez Celaya turns in ’The Mariner’s Meadow’ at Blain|Southern. Although he now lives in Los Angeles, Martinez Celaya participated in the 2019 Havana Biennale, held earlier this year with his sculpture ‘El trineo’ on the Malecon, running along the coast, part of the open air exhibition project ‘Detrás del Muro’ (Behind the Wall).
The last time I saw an exhibition of his work, the focus was on portraiture; the new exhibition turns to the landscape, beaches and seascape, with solitary youthful figures. Although Martinez Celaya left Cuba, the country of his birth, in 1972 when he was 8 years old; his new large paintings evoke the natural environment and, in one painting, the religious spirit of Cuba, across which white birds fly.
Martinez Celaya’s work also hints at something which Hemingway wrote to his family when he was 19 years old: ‘And how much better to die in all the happy period of undisillusioned youth, to go out in a blaze of light, than to have your body worn out and old and illusions shattered.’