Tag: basque art

March 12, 2008: Death of artist Menchu Gal

On March 12, 2008 the Basque artist Menchu Gal Orendain, the first woman to win Spain’s National Prize for Painting (1959) and renowned for her colorful landscapes as well as portraits, died in Donostia-San Sebastián.

Menchu Gal

Born into a middle-class family in Irun, Gipuzkoa, in 1918, she developed an early interest in painting and by the age of seven was studying the art under local painter Gaspar Montes Iturrioz. Recognizing her talent, he encouraged her family to send her to Paris to continue her studies. This she duly did in 1932, enrolling in a school run by French cubist Amédée Ozenfant. She spent two years in Paris, taking advantage of the time there to visit the great museums and exhibitions in this major global art capital. She was particularly drawn to Impressionist and Fauvist works, and especially the oeuvre of Henri Matisse. Thereafter, she continued her studies in Madrid, at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts, where her teachers included the celebrated Basque artist Aurelio Arteta.

Menchu Gal at work in 1975

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, together with her family she took refuge in France. She returned to Madrid in 1943 and soon became part of the Young Madrid School of artists, a group of young contemporary artists who exhibited regularly through the 1950s. It was at this time that she focused on landscape painting, particularly representations of the Castilian Meseta, the famed plateau of Don Quixote, and her native Basque Country. As she exhibited more, so she  gained a reputation for her vibrant use of color and the joy she expressed in her painting. And in 1959 she was awarded Spain’s National Prize for Painting for a landscape of Arraioz in the Baztan Valley of Navarre – the first woman to win this award. She continued to exhibit through the 1960s and 1970s, returning to the Basque Country and sponsoring a new generation of young Basque artists. In this regard, she was particularly interested in spotlighting painters and paintings connected with her natal Bidasoa region of Gipuzkoa; organizing retrospective of her first teacher, Montes Iturrioz, and participating in a travelling exhibition, “Painters of the Bidasoa,” in 1986. And she was still painting and exhibiting to the turn of the millennium.

Asked in a 2006 interview to describe the colors of her own particular corner of the Basque Country, the Bidasoa region, she replied:

Green and gray dominate; the trees are green, and the ground gray. The houses are kind of ocher. They don’t have a lot of color. But I love the Aia Massif [a rocky massif straddling the border between Gipuzkoa and Navarre]. I’ve seen it in all its colors. San Marcial [a shrine on a hill overlooking Irun and the Bidasoa region] and the Aia Massif have featured a lot in my painting.

Besides the Spanish National Prize for Paining, she also won many other awards. She was the first woman to receive the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa’s Gold Medal (2005) and in 2007 Eusko Ikaskuntza (the Society of Basque Studies) awarded her the prestigious Manuel Lekuona Prize.

She died in 2008 and in 2010 the City Council of Irun, in collaboration with the Kutxa Foundation, established the Menchu Gal Room at the Sancho de Urdanibia Hospital in Irun, where some of her work–purchased by the city council itself–is exhibited. That same year, a foundation was established in her name.

Further Reading

Menchu Gal Orendain at the Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

Menchu Gal, una artista extraordinaria,” by José Javier Fernández Altuna in Euskonews & Media (2007).

 

 

The Basque Country in the 19th Century painted by the Feillet sisters

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Hélène Feillet (1812-1889), as painted by her sister Blanche. Image by TRAILERS MUSEUM, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hélène (1812-1889) and Blanche (1815-1886) Feillet were artists and lithographers of some renown in the mid-19th century. Although born in Paris, they had strong connections to Iparralde, where they lived (in Biarritz) from 1834 on. And they are best known for their many portrayals of the Basque people and landscape in the form of lithographs, watercolors, oil paintings, drawings, and sketches. Their principal focus of interest was the Basque coastline, from Baiona in Lapurdi to Bermeo in Bizkaia, by way of the many fishing towns and villages along the way.

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“Pêcheuses de St-Jean-de-Luz” (Fisherwomen of Donibane Lohizune), by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

They were the daughters of a famous lithographer, Pierre Jacques Feillet (1794-1855), who was also head of the School of Drawing and Painting in Baiona from 1844 until his death – on which Blanche took over the same position. Continuing with their father’s specialty, they gained particular fame as lithographers in their representations of the Basque Country, embracing the romanticist tendencies of the age in their lithographs and prints.

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“Costumes basques” (Basque dress) by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1844 Blanche married Charles-Henri Hennebutte, who ran a printing company in Baiona. His company would later publish well-known guides to the Basque Country, such as Guide du voyageur de Bayonne à St Sébastien and Description des environs de Bayonne et de Saint-Sébastien (France et Espagne: Album des deux frontières), beautifully illustrated by the Feillet sisters. Hélène also exhibited her work in both Paris and London.

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“Entrée du duc de Bayonne en 1839” (Entrance of the Duke of Baiona in 1839) by Hélène Feillet. A work commissioned by the French Ministry of the Interior. Image by Léna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Their art stands as a remarkable testament of the time and place in which they lived and worked, and serves as an invaluable resource for capturing the Basque Country on the cusp of major social change in the mid- and late-19th century.

Chillida art explained scientifically!

Today we’d like to share a short but nevertheless fascinating Basque-related news item. Volume 55 of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie: International Edition, published on behalf of the German Chemical Society, recently included on its front cover a sculpture by renowned Basque artist Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002). The image accompanies an article in the journal: “Structurally Defined Molecular Hypervalent Iodine Catalysts for Intermolecular Enantioselective Reactions,” by Dr. Stefan Haubenreisser, Dr. Thorsten H. Wöste, Dr. Claudio Martínez, Prof. Dr. Kazuaki Ishihara, and Prof. Dr. Kilian Muñiz. According to the abstract: “The monumental ‘Elegy to the Horizon’ by the Basque artist Eduardo Chillida oversees the Atlantic coast at the town of Gijón (Asturias, Spain). A similar structural shape is involved in the enantiodiscrimination of alkenes through a chiral iodine(III) catalyst.” It would appear, then, that Chillida captured in his art the structural shape of the intermediate molecule of a chemical process. Remarkable!

Check out the article here for an enchanting intersection between science and art.

 

 

A “21st-Century Michelangelo” Basque Artist Paints Floor-to-Ceiling Murals in Church

0612_500w_0005_arts-255x255With the approval of Bishop Miguel Jose Asurmendi, the bishop of the Diocese of Victoria-Gasteiz, and the pastor of the Iglesia de San Miguel in Antezana/Andetxa, Araba,  the Basque muralist Xabier Egaña is painting the walls, floors, and ceilings of the church in the style of a contemporary Michelangelo. The mural includes a three-level scene that follows Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (at the bottom) to the Last Supper (in the middle) and Christ ascending the cross (at the top). In addition, the mural also encompasses reflections of war, peace, and social justice. Egaña further explains the narrative of his mural, which incorporates upended towers from a nuclear power plant and tombstones from a Jewish cemetery in Prague, positioned alongside Jesus in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Last Supper with Roman soldiers as ominous shadows, and Christ appearing to fall and rise simultaneously from the cross.

rsz_arts_spanish_muralThe 72-year-old Egaña, from Getxo (Bizkaia) though resident in Zarautz (Gipuzkoa), works alone and unpaid with his brushes and buckets of paint, although some volunteers do also offer assistance. Egaña further elaborates his enthusiasm with his project: “It gives me great satisfaction at my age to do such a work at this grand scale. It is gratifying that the humble townspeople value all that I am doing and make it their own.” The goal of the project is to demonstrate religious, cultural, social, and spiritual themes, while at the same time incorporating the human condition. The color, figures, and forms applied on the painting serve as a pathway for enhancing one’s individual beliefs, regardless of any specific religious attachment.

For further reading please visit the following websites:

http://cadenaser.com/emisora/2015/07/08/ser_vitoria/1436359758_695765.html

http://www.noticiasdealava.com/2015/06/20/araba/puesta-de-largo-de-la-asociacion-ormandetxea-reabierto-por-obras-en-antezana

May 6, 1924: Cultural icon Nestor Basterretxea born

One of the towering figures–both literally and figuratively–of the Basque cultural world, Nestor Basterretxea, was born in Bermeo, Bizkaia, on May 6, 1924. Although renowned for his work in sculpture, alongside the two Basque giants of the art form, Jorge Oteiza (1908-2003) and Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), Basterretxea distinguished himself in the Basque cultural arena for his wide and varied work in a number of different fields from painting and design to film making, as well as carving out a major commercial name for himself as an entrepreneur, and with his death at age 90 in 2014 he left a major legacy for Basque culture as a whole.

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Nestor Basterretxea at work. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although born in Bermeo, he was forced to flee the Basque Country with his family during the Spanish Civil War. Finding refuge initially in France, the outbreak of World War II once more forced the family to flee, this time to Argentina. As a young man in Argentina, alongside his studies in industrial design he also took an interest in painting and worked initially in the advertising industry, drawing up designs for publicity campaigns as well as exhibiting some of his own paintings as well.

In 1951 he married Basque-Argentinian Maria Isabel Irurzun, and the couple went to live initially in Madrid. He became involved in the European cultural avant-garde of the 1950s, a member of the Equipo 57 (Team 57) experimental painters’ group, and eventually settled in Gipuzkoa in 1958. Thereafter, without giving up painting, he also began to study sculpture as he found in this a better means to express the concept of space.

In 1966, he was a founding member of the Gaur (Today) an avant-garde artistic group also including (among others) Oteiza, Chillida, Remigio Mendiburu (1931-1990), Jose Antonio Sistiaga (b. 1932), and Jose Luis Zumeta (b. 1939), which in its short but highly productive existence became a leading force for cultural change in the Basque Country, challenging entrenched ideas about art and aesthetics.

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Poster for the film Ama Lur (1968).

At the same time, Basterretxea was also taking an interest in film as another significant means of artistic expression. Together with filmmaker Fernando Larruquert (b. 1934) he made the documentaries Operación H (Operation H, 1963), Pelotari (1964), and Alquézar (1965). The two of them also later made their key work: Ama Lur (Mother Earth, 1968); a documentary film intended to celebrate the strength and resilience of Basque culture that faced multiple hurdles in overcoming the predominant censorship of the time in Franco’s dictatorship in Spain; and, incredibly, the first feature length film production produced and shot in the Basque Country since the Spanish Civil War.

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The iconic “Gurpilla” (Wheel) chair designed by Basterretxea in the 1960s.

Besides this artistic work in the fields of painting, sculpture, and film making, somewhat remarkably Basterretxea also found the time to create a business empire, designing tables, offices, chairs, couches, lamps, chimneys, bar furniture, and even a chess set for his company BIOK. He had actually been designing furniture since the late 1950s, first for the H Muebles company owned by a great Basque patron of the arts, Juan Huarte. Seeing a gap in the market for contemporary designed and Basque-made furniture, Basterretxea later set up BIOK and its showcase store Espiral with a group of investors, introducing, for example, the bestselling “Gurpilla” chair, based on a curved wooden design, in the mid-1960s.

Thereafter, he returned once more to strictly artistic pursuits, presenting arguably his most famous work, the Serie Cosmogonica Vasca (Basque Cosmogonic Series) in 1973. This was made up of 19 works, made in wood, showcasing Basque Mythology and included individual pieces like the goddess-like figure of Mari and Akelarre (Witches’ Coven). This collection is today housed in the Bilbao Fine arts Museum.

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Olatua (The Wave) in the port of Bermeo, Bizkaia. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After a brief spell as an art adviser to the newly implemented Basque government in the early 1980s, he continued to produce emblematic sculptures throughout that decade and into the 1990s and 2000s: these included the Bakearen Usoa (Dove of Peace) in Donostia; Solitude, the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder in Reno; the monument to the Basque saint, Francis Xavier,  in Tokyo;  Goldea (The Plow) in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa; and the monument to the memory of the Basque sailors who died in the Battle of Matxitxako (near his home town of Bermeo) against Franco’s forces in March 1937.

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Monument to the fallen Basque sailors at the Battle of Matxitxako. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He won numerous prizes and awards throughout his long life and will be remembered fondly here at UNR, where his Orreaga held pride of place in the old Getchell Library before being rehoused in the new Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, as reported in an earlier post here.

Basterretxea’s work is discussed in both Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives by William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika (available free to download here) and Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray. Be sure to check out, too, a couple of other publications by the Etxepare Basque Institute that talk about the influence of Basterretxea in different fields: Architecture and Design by Peio Aguirre (free to download here) and Basque Cinema by Joxean Fernández (available free to download here).

 

 

 

Center featured in KNPB’s Arteffects

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The National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder, Rancho San Rafael, Reno, NV.

Episode 113 of KNPB‘s show Arteffects, which aired on April 29, included a feature on Basque art with the Center’s own Joseba Zulaika speaking about Basque immigration, Nestor Basterretxea’s Monument to the Basque Sheepherder in Reno’s San Rafael Park and Orreaga in the UNR library (be sure to check out the blog tomorrow, Friday, May 6, for a feature on Basterretxea), the history and development of the CBS as well as the arborglyphs or tree carvings made by Basque sheepherders and the importance of art in the Basque Country in general as a key part of its cultural legacy. The show also featured Kelly Reis, Executive Director of the Sparks Museum & Cultural Center, discussing the temporary exhibit titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques,” covered in an earlier post.

Check out the show (with the report on Basque art at approx. 19m 30s) here.

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Basque tree carvings.

If you’re interested in Basque art, check out Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray.

See also Speaking Through the Aspens:  Basque Tree Carvings in California and Nevada, by Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe. And check out Joxe’s site dedicated to this fascinating piece of Basque-American social and cultural history here.

Basque Mural To Be Installed in Gardnerville, Nevada

Tuesday, March 1: Weather permitting, the Main Street Gardnerville Basque-themed mural project will be completed tomorrow, when the 12-foot by 16-foot work of art is installed on the building owned by the Masons/Carson Valley Lodge No. 33, F & A M at 1421 Hwy 395 N in Gardnerville, Nevada.

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The full color mural, 16′ tall by 12′ wide and painted on 6 4’x8′ panels, which will be assembled on March 1. By permission of Beverly Caputo.

Designed  by local artist Beverly Caputo, the project has been in the works since 2012.

See a report on the event here.

Check out this other Basque-themed mural that Beverly did for Sharkey’s Casino in Gardnerville:

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Mural in Sepia brown tones painted along with a series of historical works at Sharkey’s Casino in Gardnerville. By permission of Beverly Caputo.

Quoting Nancy Zubiri’s A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals: “Gardnerville, founded in 1879, was an important sheep center in Nevada, and Basques first came here to raise sheep around the turn of the century . . . The heart of the Basque community is Gardnerville’s Main Street, where basque food is still served in the old style. The two remaining old-style Basque restaurants are the Overland Hotel and J and T Bar and Restaurant., which may be over 130 years old, according to its owners. There is also a lovely restaurant by the golf course, the Carson Valley Country Club Bar and Restaurant.”

Gardnerville is also home to the Mendiko Euskaldun Cluba Basque club.

 

 

2015 Books Round-up V: Basque Politics and Art

Finally in our round-up of the books published by the CBS in 2015, we come to a couple of works that address the subject of politics, with one discussing the fascinating topic of politics as a means of advancing the notion of sustainable human development; and the other exploring how art and politics intersect, with a special emphasis on the Basque Country.

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The Basque Experience: Constructing Sustainable Human Development, by Juan Jose Ibarretxe.

This book by the former lehendakari  (Basque president) Ibarretxe provides an incisive analysis of the legal-political and socioeconomic aspects that have made of Basque society a sustainable human development. More specifically, Ibarretxe traces such development from the post-Franco recovery of self-government via the Statute of Gernika in the 1980s up to today, and specifically in the period between 1988 and 2008. He focuses on the three relevant but traditionally unrelated fields of economics, social balance, and peacemaking. The research identifies the key factors that made it possible for the Basque Country to become one of the leading nations in the Human Development Index (2007): specifically, resilience in the face of an ongoing political conflict dating back to the 19th century exacerbated by the violence of ETA since the mid-20th century. It is Ibarretxe’s contention that these factors and the lessons learned could be of particular relevance to other countries facing serious challenges and aiming to achieve sustainable human development within the context of their own cultures.

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Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray.

The book is the result of a conference on Basque art and politics from a comparative perspective. It brings together specialists from the fields of sociology, anthropology, art history, and art criticism. Part 1, on Valuing Art, concerns the question of who, how, and what value is given to art, and how this may change over time and circumstance. Part 2, on Artistic Political Engagement, reflects on how artists may be intentionally engaged with politics, either via their social and political status and/or through the kind of art they produce and how they frame it in terms of meaning. Part 3, on Exhibitions and Curating, focuses on the relationship between art and politics: what gets exhibited, why, how, and with what political significance or consequence. The book is unique in gathering a rich variety of different viewpoints and experiences, with experts from different fields talking to each other with sometimes quite different approaches.