Lanzarote, Canary Islands, SPAIN , August 3, 2006 – This summer the volcanic island of Lanzarote is showcasing a retrospective of the early work of its most renowned artist, and throughout the year, visitors can see the living “art” that the native son carved out of this Spanish island which has been recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.*
Lying 60 miles off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean and looking like something out of a sci-fi movie, Lanzarote is all black lava, dramatic cliffs and lunar landscapes. With little rainfall, the virtually treeless island offers only cactus, prickly pear and some palm trees to relieve the barrenness. César Manrique saw something more.
After spending time on the Spanish mainland and in New York, Manrique returned to his native island and dedicated himself to preserving both its traditional architecture and its natural environment. Realizing early on that mass tourism could overwhelm the unspoiled Lanzarote, he had the foresight, combined with the abundant artistic gifts, to identify specific sites around the island and enhance their intrinsic beauty. This painter, sculptor, ecologist, preservationist, landscape architect, urban planner restored historic forts, built striking houses and restaurants, designed miradors, gardens, pools and used the island as his canvas, creating works of art out of its dramatic landscapes. And thanks to his efforts, Lanzarote has no building higher than a palm tree, no billboards mar the views to the sea and the white washed houses trimmed in green have remained an integral feature of the island’s distinctive architectural style.
From now through September 10, “César Manrique 1950-1957” will be on view at the Fundación César Manrique (FCM) presenting the early stages of the artist’s evolution from figurative colorist to abstract modern painter. As he experimented with textures and color, Manrique began to create his own visual mythology from the natural beauty – the palms, cacti and volcanos – he saw around him.
Lanzarote has three hundred volcanos and the ones that devastated the island in the 1700s – there were six consecutive years of eruptions – are now one of its key attractions. Visitors can walk or take a camel ride up in the 20-square mile Timanfaya National Park along the ruta de los volcanes through craters and over petrified lava flows to the Fire Mountains or Montañas del Fuego and stop for lunch at a Manrique-designed restaurant.
In Lanzarote’s modern capital city of Arrecife, Manrique renovated the 18th century Castillo de San Jose converting it into a museum of contemporary art which displays several of his paintings. Teguise, a city of wide cobble stone streets and 18th century mansions and the island’s capital until 1852, now boasts art galleries and wine bars along with its historic churches. Halfway between the two lies Manrique’s striking home, now the Fundación César Manrique. Out of five large natural volcanic bubbles, the artist-architect carved rooms, pools, gardens and several underground chambers or jameos – all decorated in high style circa 1970.
The other five Centres of Art, Tourism and Culture designed by the artist are:
¨ Jameos del Agua – Arguably his most spectacular design, Manrique fashioned bars, restaurants, a nightclub and a 600-seat auditorium from this meandering 3.7-mile succession of caves created by the lava flow of a dormant volcano. An underground lagoon is home to a unique species of blind albino crab. In the complex, a subterranean amphitheatre is the stage for the annual Visual Music Festival of Lanzerote (the 13th edition takes place in October.)
¨ Cueva de los Verdes – Nearby, this cave offers more adventurous visitors a chance to hike a section of the 4.3-mile-long Atlantida volcanic tunnel – said to be the longest in the world. An auditorium here serves as a second venue for the music festival and provides ideal audio conditions with its ceilings 80 feet high in some areas.
¨ Mirador del Rio – High on a 1500-foot mountain top, visitors can take in breathtaking views of the ocean and a 9-mile-reef off shore from a once-inaccessible precipice. The less adventurous may look through panoramic windows safely inside the cliff. Manrique’s innovative creation – with cliff side walkways and whitewashed caves complete with a restaurant – was named one of the four “best buildings” in the world in 1973.
¨ Casa Museo – His belief in safeguarding traditional Lanzarote architecture is on display in this farm building with pitched roofs, patios to catch rain water and details such as a Moorish chimney and a Canarian balcony. High ceilings keep the interior cool, white stonework reflects the warm sun and the green trim evokes the island’s fishing boats. Manrique’s monument to the island’s peasant farmers is nearby.
¨ Jardín de Cactus – His last work, the 16,400 square-foot Cactus Garden boasts over 10,000 cacti of more than 1,100 varieties.
In 1987 Lanzarote was declared a model of sustainable development by the World Tourism Organization and in 1993 it was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
The museum at the Fundación César Manrique has works by other artists of Manrique’s generation and contemporary Canarian painters and from July 1 to October 31 is open from 10 AM to 7 PM. From November 1 to June 30, the hours are Mondays to Saturdays 10 AM to 6 PM and Sundays from 10 AM to 3 PM. “César Manrique 1950-1957” runs through September 10. For more information, go to www.fcmanrique.org and for information about Spain, contact your travel provider or the Tourist Office of Spain in New York (212-265-8822); Miami (305-358-1992); Chicago (312-642-1992) or Los Angeles (323-658-7188) or go to www.spain.info