Roth Scholar: Enrique Martinez Celaya

by Zach Cherian | 9/27/16 12:00am

Not even receiving two degrees in the laws of physics could keep Enrique Martinez Celaya from resisting the pull of art. Nor could Martinez Celaya resist the pull of Hanover. This term he is returning to campus as a Roth Family Distinguished Visiting Scholar, a position reserved for thinkers who will expand the scope of student thought. He previously served as a Montgomery Fellow, another endowed residency position that brings leaders to Dartmouth, two years ago.

Martinez Celaya’s tenure at Dartmouth will include a set of four lectures, the first taking place last Thursday in Carpenter Hall. In the lecture, he gave a comprehensive overview of both his work and his development as an artist. Much like his work, which has spread into collections worldwide, Martinez Celaya also has lived in several countries. He was born in Cuba, then moved to Spain where he was taught art formally as a teenage apprentice before studying in the United States. His love of physics brought him to Cornell University, and he went on to pursue a doctorate program at University of California, Berkeley — also in physics.

While Martinez Celaya initially chose physics because it seemed like a more secure career choice, art was always with him. Eventually, he decided to pursue art full-time after taking a soul-searching trip to Pescadero, Calif. This prompted him to choose art over science, and he left his graduate studies at Berkeley, although not before receiving his master’s in physics.

Martinez Celaya’s lecture, entitled “The Studio is Not a Factory,” highlighted each individual period in his life and the art that he produced during that time. At the beginning of the presentation, he played a video that showcased his impressive Los Angeles-area studio, filled not only with art but poetry and a fully-stocked library, as well.

Martinez Celaya has not lost touch with his love of physics and scholarship in general, using mediums that span across all materials and sizes, from larger-than-life canvas paintings to sculptures.

Part of Martinez Celaya’s role as a Roth Scholar is to interact with and teach members of the Dartmouth community while working in his studio in the basement of the Hopkins Center.

Art history professor Holly Shaffer particularly noted the importance of the residency aspect of Martinez Celaya’s tenure.

“I think that is a really special part of having an artist on campus — actually seeing someone in the midst as they are thinking, as they are working through ideas, and actually seeing that work come to being,” Shaffer said.

This thought process was particularly evident in the question-and-answer portion of Martinez Celaya’s talk, which gave listeners insight into his mind. When Martinez Celaya does not appreciate an aspect of his work, he destroys it. The audience, primarily consisting of professors from several disciplines, was able to ask questions that helped the room — even those who were not trained artists or scholars — to understand his work better.

Shaffer commented that another benefit of having an artist on campus is that students “have access to both the artist and also the method of production.”

“It’s not just the idea given forth in the talk or the finished product; you can see the process of making,” Shaffer said.

Art history professor Mary Coffey, who focuses on Latin American art, drew a similarity between Martinez Celaya and another celebrated artist in residence, albeit almost a century ago, at Dartmouth: José Clemente Orozco.

“I think in some ways, some of the challenges of his work are similar to the challenges that Orozco’s work presents in that both of them work with figure,” Coffey said.

Shaffer commented on the current impact of Martinez Celaya’s work.

“What’s great about having working artists, from a historical perspective, is you can see how the history of art continues to be reworked in the present,” Shaffer said.

Just as Martinez Celaya’s work can be placed in a historical context, it can also appeal to many different disciplines.

Philosophy professor Kenneth Walden noted that Martinez Celaya’s art and process is applicable to “many different corners of the College.”

“I think he has something to offer not just in studio art, say, but also to people in philosophy for example, and also people in art history and throughout the humanities,” Walden said.

Martinez Celaya will be conducting three more lectures during the school year, with the next one occurring on Oct. 20.