09 Jul CÉSAR MANRIQUE, A GREAT ARTIST FROM LANZAROTE
Lanzarote cannot be understood if we don’t know about César Manrique. You cannot fall in love with the island without recognising everything the artist did for it. That’s why it’s easy to understand why so many artists, geniuses and creators have felt a special bond with this immeasurably bright rural volcanic landscape.
Saramago, Vázquez Figueroa, Pedro Almodóvar and even Sabina himself, they all lost themselves on the beaches of Lanzarote and among the discreet locals. The same thing has happened to Custo Dalmau, an artist in love with the dark and bright shades and brown and blue shades on the island.
The designer would have shared his passion for Famara with Manrique, and just like him, he can go from New York to Caleta and be able to enjoy both places as if he were a child. Lanzarote leaves a mark on those who bond with it. It makes artists who then return the favour by finding inspiration in it for their creations.
CÉSAR MANRIQUE’S GENIUS
Getting back to Manrique again, his genius is clear in every corner of the island. How César managed to become the great architect, painter and sculptor he was, and how he could feel the island as a part of himself, those are questions that are hard to answer if we don’t first know the man behind the genius. The child, the teenager, the young man…
César was born in April 1919 in Charco de San Ginés. His father was a businessman and his grandfather a notary public. He had mainland roots on both sides of his family. César had three siblings, Amparo, Carlos and Juana, the youngest. From his childhood, César always remembered the beach in Famara, the landscape, the tide going out, and above all, the stunning cliffs. It was then when his passion for nature and his commitment to protect it developed. He started studying on the island, but as soon as he was old enough to go to university, he moved to La Laguna to study Technical Architecture, a degree he dropped out of two years later to go to the Fine Arts Academy in San Fernando, Madrid. He completed his studies and returned to the island as a drawing and painting teacher. Soon after, he had his first exhibition alongside his good friend Pepín Ramírez, who later became one of the great politicians the island has had, and the one who promoted his creations the most.
In the 1920’s, surrealism was at its peak, and César Manrique founded the Fernando Fé Gallery, the first non figurative one in the country. He set off the abstract art trend. His genius was beginning to become clear. At that time, he started his first murals in Lanzarote, like the Guacimeta Airport and the Turismo de Arrecife parador. He also started exhibiting his work in other countries as well as in the mainland.
In 1964, he moved to , at the Catherine Viviano Gallery, among others, and he was connected to North American artistic currents. He went to America invited by , who had purchased some of his work. His experience there was key for his artistic future. Getting to see American abstract expressionism first hand, pop art, the new sculpture and kinetic art, had a significant influence in his later work. He himself said: “when I came back from New York, I intended to turn my hometown into one of the most beautiful places in the world, given the unlimited potential Lanzarote had.” And he got down to work, always helped by his close friend Pepín Ramírez, already President of the Cabildo Insular by then.
One of his first objectives was to preserve the traditional image of the island. He managed to persuade locals to keep the architecture in their houses as they had been traditionally intended by their ancestors, using specific colours and eliminating publicity banners, a key decision to preserve the image of the island. It wasn’t in vain, very much to the contrary, the people took these ideas on board to maintain and preserve the landscape.
Manrique’s goal was to combine art and nature without modifying the landscape, not altering nature, but rather highlighting its best features. He managed to do so by means of a series of spatial and landscapes projects, innovative at the time, where he shows his artistic ideas and values.
ADAPTING LANZAROTE FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
Manrique created an idea he called “Art-nature/ nature-art”. Public art integrated in the landscape. Jameos del agua, Mirador del río, Jardín de Cactus and Montañas del Fuego came from that idea, interventions in nature connected to the tourism industry, always based on respecting the environment and protecting the architectural values of the local tradition, adding some modern touches.
The final aim of these interventions was no other than to improve the quality of life of the people from Lanzarote, and above all to show the world the beauty of an island he considered unique.
All of it is plain to see in how he chose to build his own house in Taro de Tahíche, a landscape brimming with gorse. Manrique managed to show how something that seemed to be isolated after the volcanic eruptions, was actually a true microcosmos, a place full of life and beauty, a paradise highlighting the light and colours of the earth.
César Manrique, with his unique and innate artistic talent, as well as his training and what he learnt during his trips and time spent studying, but especially thanks to his very own instinct, managed to see the possibilities Lanzarote had before anybody else did. He managed to get millions of people dreaming of visiting the island, and he did so when tourism on the island meant barely a few hundred visitors a year.
Therefore, it is no wonder that Custo has fallen for the island, so much so that he tries to visit it every time he gets a chance, considering his tight schedule.