Sitting on the Malecon along the coast in Havana, Cuba, the sea can appear beautifully calm and restful, reflecting the blue of the sky, slowly moving in and out with little white crests dancing on top of the waves. Across the sea, not that many miles away, is the coast of Florida and, for some who have taken the journey, a new world. They may have risked their lives to do in flimsy boats or rafts, sailing through water which is infested with dangerous sharks.
Change can come suddenly as the wind increases, the sky starts to darken, clouds rapidly fly towards the coast and the waves increase in size and speed, becoming tall and heavy enough to tower above and submerge a small boat. The Malecon becomes deserted as people run to their homes in readiness for the hurricane which can blow apart the fragile buildings in its path.
Enrique Martinez Celaya was born in 1964 in Palos, Nieva Paz in Cuba. The sea or the ocean is part of his life as he and his family crossed over it, first to Madrid in 1972, then in 1975 to Puerto Rico. His university career started at Cornell University in New York where he studied applied physics and electrical engineering, moving to the University of California, Berkeley to research quantum electronics. He left before completing his PhD to change direction altogether and study art, gaining a MFA at the University of California, Santa Barbara and then attending the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.
Art had been in his blood since he took up drawing at the age of 8 years old. In Madrid, he also says that he became “familiar with not belonging somewhere. That was a feeling I had not known before”, a feeling which many emigres must feel.
Marinez Celaya’s series “Self and Sea” at Parafin London reflects on the many influences on his life in the first of a proposed trilogy of exhibitions exploring the subject of portraiture. His portraits are however different to those hanging a mile or so away in the National Portait Gallery. These are not images of himself, but rather of memories and of people who have influenced and shaped his character and career. His portrait is in effect the entire exhibition - the sum of all these images -uske a physical equation.
Three of the paintings are of the sea itself, in different states of calm and movement, while others include images, in a variety of contexts, of friends, family and other individuals who have significantly impacted on him, including TS Elliot, Freddie Mercury and Nina Simone.
In carrying out this experiment, Martinez Celaya is also exploring the possibilities and the limitations of portraiture and “the capacity of art to affect us, often precisely as a consequence of its failures” and invites us to wait in anticipation to see how this will unfold in future parts of the trilogy.