César Manrique (1919-1992)
While away in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, before Easter, we visited the César Manrique Foundation in Tahiche, something I had wanted to do for some time.
César Manrique was born in the capital of the island, Arrecife in 1919, graduated from the San Fernando Fine Arts Academy in Madrid, moved to New York in 1964 and returning to his native Lanzarote in 1966 where he stayed. He became involved in abstract and non figurative work after living in Paris for a while in the early fifties, using paint and collage. Manrique, however, was know for his “total art” approach and was fundamental in the evolution of Lanzarote and the Canary Islands as a whole. It would be almost impossible not to have heard his name or seen his influence everywhere on the island.
Manrique’s “total art” encompassed painting, collage, murals (both mosaic and paint), sculptures (his wind sculptures in particular) in plastic, metal and wood, architecture and even garden design. He created the motifs and logos synonymous with the island and was instrumental in establishing the general appearance of the island by campaigning for and creating “Manrique’s law” which stated that all buildings should retain their traditional appearance, white walls and green or blue woodwork, no billboards should litter the highways and buildings should not be high rise. In fact there is only one hotel in the capital that is – almost as an exception to prove the rule.
Of Manrique’s work I have seen, his wind sculptures are magnificent in their design and engineering.
This example pictured was quite mesmerising. Each element turned in the wind independently and as a whole, acutely engineered to move freely. This is an example of Manrique working with the elements and environment of the island, as anyone who has visited will be aware of the wind that blows many months of the year.
Harnessing the surroundings is a key factor in the artist’s work. His house, which is now the Foundation’s headquarters and museum has been honed out of the volcanic rock and solidified lava flows from which the island was created. Manrique adapted natural air pockets formed in the lava as rooms and made tunnels to interconnect these rooms – floors and walls are painted the characteristic white and ironically give the impression of being ice walls similar to that of a toboggan sleigh run.
Pictured is one of the underground rooms with a tree growing in the centre up and out of the ceiling/roof. Also in shot is an example of Manrique’s metal sculptures in a similar vein to that of the Timanfaya National Park Devil, (see photo below) that was also designed by the artist and is reproduced as a memento. With this legacy Manrique is still providing wealth of both income and culture to the island. There are various examples and exhibits of his work and those of other notable artists of his time on display – Picasso and Juan Miro the Catalan painter, sculptor and ceramicist for example.
Within the exhibits of Manrique’s work are drawings and plans of his ideas for wind sculptures, his sketch books and paintings. The sketch books I found fascinating for the explorations of mural work. These took in the every day life of Lanzarote, farmers tending the vines, fishermen and the camels etc. He would make line drawings, overlapping objects in his composition in a stretched landscape orientation and then introduce colour in the abstract shapes that resulted. Something I would like to try in my sketchbook of things nearer to home for me. Moving on to the paintings, these are large in scale and incorporate natural materials and textures using acrylic, oil paint, sand and pumice. By laying his canvases on the floor and pouring on these materials, Manrique made beautifully rich and textured paintings reminiscent of the landscape all around him, the coastline, mountains and redundant volcanic structures – very inspirational.
From this visit opening my eyes to his involvement in the island I can’t help but feel that Manrique is Lanzarote and Lanzarote is César Manrique.