In this post I round off my thoughts on the works of Cesar Manrique, an artist and architect who had a transformational impact on the environment of his native Lanzarote. (In addition to his signature buildings and landscapes, he was also responsible for a policy stipulating that all structures on Lanzarote adhere to the color scheme of the island's tradtional architecture - white with green trim. Shockingly it's been adopted almost without exception, including industrial buildings.) I'm very surprised that his name isn't more well-known beyond the islands.
Below are images of the two spaces that made the biggest impression on me. El Taro de Tahiche was the artist's home, and is now a museum showcasing a wide array of his two- and three-dimensional works and housing the Cesar Manrique Foundation. The building itself is nestled into a lava field; its cavelike lower-level rooms are connected by a series of tunnels, and by several courtyards open to the sky. The constructed surfaces are all finished with white plaster, sculpted into smooth, sinuous forms that contrast dramatically with the dark, jagged lava rock while somehow seeming to flow naturally out of it.
Los Jameos del Agua, built into a partially-collapsed lava tube, is of similar concept and aesthetic. But with its cavernous spaces, colorfully lit at night and including several restaurants and even a theater, I found this site to represent an even more moving synthesis of built and natural.
During my years of travel, the places that have typically stuck with me most (and, clearly, provided fodder for nearly all of my artwork to date) have been minimally affected by humans. (I reason that this is because I view even the most impressive cultural monuments as a little less impressive for the very fact that they can be attributed to human effort or ingenuity. I figure, "Of course they turned out well...people wanted them to!" The built elements that do excite me tend to be vernacular, rather than designed, structures or landscapes - with a close relationship to their natural contexts.) But Cesar Manrique's work had a profound impact on me. In large part, this is because of the way he has managed to turn the stark contrast between architecture and rock into a unifying element. There's a certain tenderness of design and execution that makes the integration work...as if the soft architectural forms are caressing the rugged lava rock into partial submission. And, as I write this now, I realize this taming of wildness, not through elimiinating it but by framing and isolating pieces of it, is very similar to what I strive to do in my own work.
There's also a playful element throughout Manrique's work that has some role in this "taming" effect, from the little pockets of succulents worked into the surfaces, to whimsically abstract animal drawings and sculptures and comically suggestive restroom signage. In an earlier post, when referencing The Little Prince, I mentioned ideas I've had about integrating a similar playful element into my work, to bring about a similar mollifying effect. Manrique's example has provided me with additional inspiration to experiment with this concept.
Manrique died tragically when he was hit by a car in a roundabout just meters from his house, one that he had wanted re-designed because of safety concerns. There are only a handful of people I regret not being sufficiently familiar with (or interested in) when they were alive to have met them in person, and he is one of them. (Roberto Burle-Marx, who had a similar transformational effect on Brazilian landscape architecture, is another.)
My only disappointment with his work is that none of it involved volcanic craters. I recently wrote to the Cesar Manrique Foundation, whose mission includes supporting the work of other artists, asking if they would be interested in funding a project inspired by the island's history of human interaction with craters. Unfortunately, because of Spain's economic difficulties, they are no longer funding artists; but, I'm hoping I can still find a way to further explore this topic.