César Manrique or adaptation to nature
César Manrique managed to engrave upon the natural environment pieces in perfect symbiosis and equilibrium with the environment in which he worked. He understood as no one before him the beauty and the value of his surroundings, and throughout them made his brilliant imagination manifest. His legacy stretches throughout Spain and even beyond its borders. But it is without a doubt in his native island, Lanzarote, where Manrique’s love of landscapes is most clearly manifest, to such an extent that it has been said that Manrique’s greatest work is Lanzarote itself.
The island of Lanzarote is unquestionably linked to the work of César Manrique. This artist was fascinated by Lanzarote's unique volcanic landscape, which others thought of as arid, inhospitable desert. For him, its volcanic essence was synonymous with beauty, and it was out of respect, admiration and gratitude for this environment in which he grew up that he developed his work.
But, how can his work be defined? This is a difficult question to answer, and even more difficult to confine Manrique’s work to current artistic trends or even techniques used. Although he defined himself as a painter, the truth is that Manrique was also a sculptor, architect, town planner, landscape artist, ecologist and monument conservationist. Manrique was all of these things, which comes through in all of his work.
His first and perhaps most spectacular work in Lanzarote was the Los Jameos del Agua cave, in which he created a natural auditorium that is perfectly integrated into a whimsical volcanic formation. Its beauty, contrast of light and colors make it a creation admired the world over, and to a large extent encapsulates what Manrique did throughout his life: compose spaces in which human contributions were perfectly integrated into the natural surroundings, thereby magnifying their beauty and value.
The mirador del Río is another of his projects in Lanzarote, a vantage point magnificently integrated into the island’s northern cliffs. Manrique’s house, in Taro de Tahiche, is perhaps the piece that best represents his personal and artistic ideals: it expresses his longing to live together with lava. The house is an exceptional example of the integration of a residence into natural surroundings--an oasis in the middle of a river of blue-black lava.
Today the house is the site of the César Manrique Foundation, created in 1992 with the purpose of promoting the study and diffusion of all of Manrique’s works, as well as artistic and cultural activities that promote resepct for the envrionment. The site was built in 1968 over a lava cast, and on the lower level makes use of the natural formation of five volcanic bubbles to create a surprising inhabitable space. The upper level and exterior are built in the island’s traditional architectural style.
The monumento al Campesino (monument to the peasant) and the cactus garden are other works that can be visited on Lanzarote. Manrique also left, however, an important legacy outside of his native island. Among his spatial works the spectacular mirador de La Peña (El Hierro), mirador de Palmarejo (La Gomera) vantage points, Marítimo de Puerto de la Cruz Park and Playa Jardín (Tenerife), the La Vaguada shopping center (Madrid) and the spacious Marítimo del Mediterráneo Park (Ceuta) all stand out. These are all public spaces, architectural and urban projects, though Manrique was criticized for not possesing precise architectural knowledge. He never debated this criticism and confined himself to saying that he was an artist and always expressed himself with the means he belived appropriate. In reality, all of the works mentioned here are truly singular creations in which the natural environment is the protagonist.
In sum, for César Manrique, nature was not only a fundamental reference point for his artistic creations, but also for his life. He did not create in nature, he used nature to create, and his relationship with his surroundings was not simply an aesthetic one, but rather one in which he had a true and exemplary commitment to defending the environment. There is no other Spanish artist whose work is so intimately tied to the natural world.
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