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Art review: Enrique Martinez Celaya at L.A. Louver

June 23, 2011 |  6:30 pm

The Gambler EMC10-1 A_72 “Wormwood,” the title of Enrique Martínez Celaya’s affecting show at L.A. Louver, is a bitter herb used to make vermouth, absinthe and medicinal tonics. In Martínez Celaya’s work, figurative meanings carry more weight than literal definitions, and wormwood’s — “an emblem or type of what is bitter and grievous to the soul” — resonates well with the artist’s longstanding exploration of interior states of being. The dozen drawings and watercolors, three sculptures and single large oil and wax painting here touch on vulnerability, growth, nurture, loss and passage. The images feel lifted from a philosophically charged fable or dream-like poem, visually distilled and emotionally dense.

The vision of a boy leaning on crutches, a house strapped to his back, recurs across media. The life-size bronze is a powerful, complicated sight. The house is a burden and the strap wraps around the figure’s neck, yet the archetypal shape connotes shelter, safety, security. Physically encumbered, compromised, the boy and his home journey as one, a sign of profound integrity, perhaps, or an indication of eternal exile. Martínez Celaya courts a fluidity of meaning, titling a simple drawing of the house “The Nursery,” and naming a small plywood and ink sculpture of the same shape “The Grief Box.” This simultaneity of love and pain, emergence and damage, courses through his work, imbuing it with searing authenticity. The scenes are portentous, but Martínez Celaya’s touch is delicate, sparing. His watercolors of the boy as earth itself, bent forward, with grass and flowers growing from his back, are simply breathtaking.
-- Leah Ollman

L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through July 9. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Photo: Enrique Martinez Celaya, "The Gambler," from L.A. Louver.