Lanzarote, the island shaped by Manrique
César Manrique Foundation in Lanzarote
César Manrique created art from and with the local landscape, in a perfect symbiosis and equilibrium with the natural environment. He was unique in his ability to interpret the beauty and value of the space around him, and use it to express his brilliant imagination. His legacy can be found all over Spain and his fame is international, but Lanzarote, the island where he was born, is where the relationship between his art and the landscape reached his apogee - in fact, some say Manrique’s greatest work of art is Lanzarote.
Lanzarote cannot be conceived without the contribution of César Manrique. The artist was fascinated by Lanzarote’s unique volcanic landscape. While others saw it as a desert, arid and inhospitable, for him that volcanic nature was a synonym of beauty, and he created his work with respect, admiration and gratitude for his native environment.
How can his work be defined? It is difficult to answer that question and, more so, straightjacket Manrique’s work within artistic currents and techniques used. Although he defined himself as a painter, it is true he was also a sculptor, architect, town planner, landscaper, ecologist and a monument curator. Manrique was all these things and this is what his work reveals.
His first and perhaps most spectacular work in Lanzarote was the Jameos del Agua grotto, where he created a natural auditorium, perfectly integrated in a space shaped at random by volcanic activity. The space is universally admired for its beauty and contrasts of light and colour. This work is an excellent example of a constant theme in Manrique’s art: creating spaces where the human contribution is harmoniously integrated with the natural environment, enhancing its beauty and qualities.
The Río viewing point is another of his projects in Lanzarote, skilfully integrated into the cliffs on the north of the island. His own home in Taro de Tahiche is perhaps the work which best represents Manrique’s personal and artistic ideals: it expresses his fascination with volcanic rock, and is an exceptional example of a home integrated in nature, a bubble in the middle of a river of blue-black lava.
At present, it is the headquarters of the César Manrique Foundation, set up in 1992 to research and disseminate Manrique’s work, and to promote artistic and cultural activity that encourages respect for the environment. The building was constructed in 1968 on a lava outflow and takes advantage, on the lower level, of the natural formation of five volcanic bubbles to create a surprising liveable space; the upper level and exterior of the house are inspired by traditional island architecture.
His Monument to Farm Workers and his Cactus Garden are among other works that can be visited on Lanzarote. Manrique also left a major legacy off the island. Highlights of his spatial work include the spectacular viewing point of La Peña (El Hierro), the Palmarejo viewing point (La Gomera), the Costa Martiánez Complex and Playa Jardín (Tenerife), La Vaguada Shopping Centre (Madrid) and the large Mediterranean Maritime Park (Ceuta). All are public spaces, works of architecture and town planning, although he was always criticised for not having the engineering training expected of architects. Manrique never denied this criticism, merely stating he was an artist and expressed himself at all times with the media he believed appropriate. In any case, it is true that all these works are truly unique creations, where the environment is the protagonist.
In short, for César Manrique nature was not only the main reference point for his artistic creation but also for his life. He did not create in nature but rather with it, and his relationship with the landscape was not simply aesthetic but also a truly exemplary commitment to defending the environment. There is no other Spanish artist whose work is so intimately linked with nature.