First published: Spring 2015
Art environments in Spain – like those the world over – display a wide range of forms, reflect different aesthetic outlooks and have been constructed using a variety of media. Some are monumental architectural structures, such as the 86,000-square-foot cathedral built by Justo Gallego Martínez (b. 1925) in Madrid, or the castle of Serafín Villarán (1935–1998), which he, his daughter Yolanda and her husband Luis Miguel Fernández constructed in Cebolleros.
Others consist of groupings of sculptures, such as the figures of Máximo Rojo (1912–2006) in Alcolea del Pinar or the fantasy creatures of Peter Buch (b. 1938) in Pobla de Benifassá. Still others take the forms of park-like grottos, like O Pasatempo in Betanzos, which was made by Juan María García Naveira (1849–1933 ), or decorated interiors or exteriors, such as an environment in Barbastro that includes stone carvings, made by José Foncillas Ribera (b. 1928), or La Casa de las Conchas (The House of Shells) by Manuel Fulleda Alcaraz (b. 1933), in Rojales, or another Casa de las Conchas, in Montoro, by Francisco del Río Cuenca (1926–2010). There are shrines, like the Xardín Paraíso (Garden of Paradise) of Raúl Viqueira (b. 1947), in Laraño, and personal museums, like the Museo del Mar “Las Caracolas”, in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, constructed by José María Garrido (1925–2011). Assemblages of found, natural or created objects include a stone environment in Villatoro, crafted by Manuel Garrido Villalba (b. 1926), and the Museo de Man, which Manfred Gnädinger (1936–2002) built on the rocky shores of the Cantabrian coast in Camelle.
A sculpture in the garden of Peter Buch in Pobla de Benifassà, photo by Jo Farb Hernández
The sites are all idiosyncratic, personal and unique works of art; there are no traditions, artistic schools or manifestos that link them. The sole, common characteristic among all of these sites is their reflection of the combination of tenacity and passion their creators, realising their visions on or around their own homes, yards and fields, brought to making them. As a result, a study of these works runs counter to the inclination of most art or architectural historians, who prefer to categorise artistic manifestations by period and style, but art environments, in their exuberant inconsistency, fail to correspond neatly to such characterisations.