César Manrique (1919-1992) was born in Arrecife, Lanzarote, an island where his artistic career left indelible marks.
After finishing his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid (where he lived between 1945 and 1964), he often organized exhibitions of his paintings both in Spain and abroad. In the first half of the fifties, he moved into figurative art and he deepened the qualities of the material to make it the main protagonist of his compositions, thus binding himself to the contemporary Spanish informal movement.
Despite the material and abstract extraction, the plastic imagery of his pictorial production was inspired by the impressions of the volcanic landscape of Lanzarote, which the artist formed in a sort of non-realist naturalism that was not born from the copy of nature, but from his emotional understanding: “I try to be the free hand that gives shape to geology” he wrote.
In 1964, he moved to New York, where he lived and exhibited his works, on three occasions, in the Catherine Viviano gallery. The direct contact with American abstract expressionism, pop art, new sculpture and kinetic art allowed him to have a visual culture, that was fundamental to his later creative journey.
In the mid-sixties, concurrenttly with his move to Lanzarote, César Manrique promoted a series of artistic projects – very innovative for that time – very special and landscaping painting, shaping his plastic and ethical thinking.
It was a set of actions and interventions that highlighted the value of the landscape and the natural beauties of the island, which gave life to a new aspect, that reached the changes of the island, from the economic, international and tourist point of view.
Thus, he created a new aesthetic ideology, which he called art-nature/nature-art, in which he integrated several artistic manifestations, reflected in his landscape works, which still represent a singular example of public art in Spain: Jameos del Agua, Mirador del Río, Jardín de Cactus, Timanfaya and so on.
They are mainly interventions bound to the tourism industry, to which Manrique donated an unprecedented economic and social function in Spanish culture. These kind of works have been realized by Manrique himself in other islands of the Canary archipelago, as well as panoramic terraces, gardens, adaptations of degraded spaces, reforms of the coast.
In them, the artist kept the characteristics of the places: the respect of nature, between the architectural values of local tradition and modern conceptions.
The César Manrique home-studio in Lanzarote
The landscape becomes architecture. And nature becomes the starting point of the project and the point of arrival for César Manrique. Painter, architect, sculptor, landscape designer, urban planner and activist, soul and great critical conscience of the island of Lanzarote.
The house of Manrique in Tahiche, a village in the central-northern part of the island, is a structure of about 1,800 square meters of living space, integrated, created and built on the lava flow of the long volcanic eruption that upset and redefined Lanzarote for six years, from 1730 to 1736.
It is the first real home designed and built by Manrique, who started this operation in 1968, when he returned to the island after three years in New York. Despite the professional success, that period away from home aroused in him a feeling of nostalgia for his land.
During a walk through the Tahiche lava, Manrique saw a fig tree emerge from “below” and then everything started. Like all his architectural projects, he did not start from a design, but from a physical action of development on the same ground, real and experimental laying plane: little by little, with the exploration and the taming of the earth and the lava, with the overlap of the lime and sometimes using a sketch.
The structure divided into two levels: the upper one is built according to the canonical architectural canons (such as the walls strictly and whitewashed by law, the wooden windows and the typical onion-shaped chimney-pots), while the lower level was obtained in five large volcanic bubbles five meters high and open to the sky, the so-called jameos, originating from pockets of gas trapped in the lava tunnel.
To these environments is added a further jameo that welcomes a large open area with the swimming pool, accommodated in the lava and also covered by the faithful white lime, and all around palms and cacti, in the oasis of the Hypogeum of Manrique who saw the passage of the many international artists known in his other lives, between Madrid and New York.
A large spiral staircase, located in the living room, connects the interior of the ground floor and the underground spaces: today it represents the exhibition hall of the Foundation. The house is surrounded also by an amazing vegetation, with many varieties of cactus and aloe, agaves and bougainvillea, on a surface of 1,200 square meters between gardens and terraces.
The main colors are black, white and green blend together. In the ’70s, the upper part of the house there were living room, the kitchen, the staff quarters, a large bathroom – full of plants and two bedrooms; today it welcomes the collection of contemporary art of the Fundación César Manrique, a private cultural institution that pursues the aim of spreading an inheritance and an artistic, environmental and cultural awareness:
Paintings by Mirò, Picasso, Chillida, Tàpies and others, as well as many sketches of the landlord, are arranged along the walls.
In the lower part, the five cavities and the open space of the large pool relax area are connected by corridors dug into the basalt of the lava flow, covered with white lime that also accompanies the structure of the house, and which is always opposed to black lava with natural wonder. Each room is different and characterized by different colors and textures, declined in the furniture specially designed at the time and now partially maintained.
Since the ’80s, César Manrique decided to set up his house as a personal inheritance and he participated in the (minimal) readjustment of the structure for his new public museum, which he inaugurated in March 1992, six months before his death, occurred in a car accident not far from the building.