César Manrique (1919-1992) was born at Arrecife, Lanzarote, an island on which his art was to leave an indelible mark. After finishing his studies at the San Fernando Fine Arts Academy at Madrid (where he lived from 1945 to 1964), he exhibited his work on a regular basis both in Spain and abroad. In the early nineteen fifties, he ventured into non-figurative art and studied the properties of matter, concerns that would predominate in his compositions, bonding him to Spain’s contemporary “informalist” movement.
Despite the artist’s abstraction and matter-centrism, the plastic roots of his pictorial production lie in Lanzarote’s volcanic landscape, transformed into a sort of non-realist naturalism which, rather than a copy of the original, is an emotional translation of its significance. “I try to be the free hand that forms geology,” he wrote. In 1964, he moved to New York, where he held three solo exhibitions in the Catherine Viviano gallery. The direct contact with American abstract expressionism, pop art, new sculpture and kinetic art afforded Manrique a visual culture essential to his subsequent creative development.
In the mid-nineteen sixties, upon his return to his native island, he undertook a series of spatial and landscape artistic projects that were not only entirely new at the time, but constituted a statement of his plastic and ethical principles. These actions and interventions aimed to turn the landscape and the island’s natural attractions to value, with a view to generating a new international image and portrayal that would form part of Lanzarote’s adaptation to the tourist economy.
His new a new aesthetic ideal, called art-nature/nature-art, integrated different modes of artistic expression visible in Manrique’s landscape art: most prominently, Jameos del Agua, El Río Lookout, Cactus Garden and Timanfaya. Manrique endowed these interventions, intricately associated with the tourist industry, with economic and social functionalism unprecedented in Spanish artistic culture. He created works of this nature on other islands and beyond the Canary archipelago: lookouts, gardens, reconditioning of degenerated areas, shoreline reform, etc. All these works are imbued with the artistic principles he held most dear: respectful dialogue between art and the natural medium and between local architectural values and modern conceits.
Photos and Text: Fundación César Manrique