29 Mar César Manrique, Lanzarote’s extraordinary creator
To understand Lanzarote, one has to know the story of César Manrique. No-one can fall in love with the island without appreciating what this artist has done for t. So it’s no surprise that so many artists, geniuses and creatives have felt a special bond with this rugged volcanic island and its mystifying light.Saramago, Vásquez Figueroa, Pedro Almodóvar and even Sabina himself, at some point became absorbed in its beaches and by its gentle folk. The same can be said for Custo Dalmau, an artist enthralled by the blacks, the whites, the cinnamons and the blues of the island.
The designer would have shared his love for Famara with Manrique, and like him, has absolutely no problem hopping from New York to La Caleta, delighting in both places like a child. Lanzarote leaves its mark on those who adopt it as their home. It produces artists who return the favour by using the island as inspiration for their creations.
The genius of César Manrique
Going back to Manrique, the artist’s genius is plain to see in every corner of the island. How César became the great architect, painter and sculptor that he was, and how he came to perceive the island as an extension of himself, is a complex thing to understand without learning about the man behind the genius. The young man, the adolescent, the child…
César was born in April 1919, in Charco de San Ginés. He was the son of a salesman and grandson of a notary, both parents came from the Spanish mainland. César had three siblings: Amparo (twin sister), Carlos and Juana. César always talked of his childhood memories of Famara beach, its landscape, the low tides and, above all, it’s magnificent cliffs. This passion for nature and his commitment to defending it was forged in fire during this childhood. He completed his early studies on the island, but when on reaching university age, he moved to La Laguna to study architectural technology. He abandoned this course two years later to join the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. He finished his studies correctly and on time, then returned to the island as a drawing and painting teacher. He held his first painting exhibition shortly afterwards, with the help of his good friend Pepín Ramirez, who would later become one of the island’s greatest politicians and who was one of the greatest supporters of his work.
Surrealism was in its heyday during the 1920s and César Manrique founded the country’s first non-figurative art gallery, the Fernando Fé Gallery, and pushed abstract art to the forefront at that time. The rich trail that this extraordinary genius would leave behind started to reveal itself. He began to create the first murals in Lanzarote during that time, like the ones at Guacimeta Airport and the Parador in Arrecife, and on the mainland, as well as starting to display his work in several countries.
In 1964 he moved to New York where he exhibited at the Catherine Vivano Gallery, among other places, and came into contact with the main North American artists of the time. He was invited to the American continent by Nelson Rockefeller, who had bought some of his pictorial works. The experience he gained there was crucial for his artistic future. His direct knowledge of abstract American expressionism, pop art, new sculpture and kinetic art, significantly influenced his later work. He himself said: “when I returned from New York I came with the intention of turning my island into one of the most beautiful places on earth,given the infinite possibilities that Lanzarote had to offer.” And so he set to work, always with the invaluable help of his friend Pepín Ramirez, who was then president of the island’s government.
One of his main objectives was to conserve the island’s most traditional image, and convinced the islanders to preserve their homes with the traditional architecture created by their ancestors. Conserving the colour palette and the elimination of billboards were also key decisions for preserving the island’s image. This wasn’t some crazy idea plucked out of the air. On the contrary, the people adopted these tenets of safeguarding and landscape preservation.
Manrique set a goal to integrate art into the landscape without changing it. In other words, bring the best out of the landscape without changing it, and he did this through a series of artistic projects based on spatial and landscape design, which were groundbreaking at the time and embodied his artistic and ethical line of thought.
Shaping Lanzarote for sustainable tourism
Manrique created a vision that he called “Art-nature/ nature-art.” A kind of public art integrated into the landscape. Jameos del Agua, Mirador del Rio, the Cactus Garden and the Fire Mountains(Timanfaya) are products of this movement; interventions with nature linked to the tourism industry, always with a respect for the environment and preservation of traditional, local architectural values, and with a dash of modern concepts, of course.
The ultimate goal of these interventions was none other than to improve the islanders’ quality of life and, above all, to show the world the beauty of an island that the artist considered unique.
One only needs to see the site he chose to build his own house, the Taro de Tahiche, a landscape rife with brambles. Through his own home, Manrique managed to prove that the wasteland that everyone thought the island to be, isolated by volcanic eruptions, was in fact a true microcosm: a place full of life and beauty, a paradise marked by light and the earth’s colours.
César Manrique saw Lanzarote’s potential before anyone else, thanks to his natural artistic talent, through everything he learnt during his studies and on his travels, but above all, due to his instinct. His work made millions of people dream of visiting the island and he did it at a time when tourism amounted to only a few hundred people a year.
For all of these reasons, it’s hardly surprising that Custo has fallen for this island, so much so that he comes to visit whenever his full busy agenda allows it.