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César´s Empire – Manrique´s Lanzarote

César Manrique, Art Cars

César Manrique

“Those of us born of you (Lanzarote), those of us who know about your magic, your wisdom, the secrets of your volcanic structure, your revolutionary aesthetics; those who have fought to rescue you from your enforced historical isolation and the poverty which you have always suffered, begin to tremble with fear as we see how you are destroyed and submitted to massification.  We realize just how futile our accusations and cries for help are to the ears of speculators in their hysterical avarice.”César Manrique

Hail César

It’s hard to visit Lanzarote without coming across the name of César Manrique.  His giant wind toys are visible on roundabouts across the island, whilst the six Centres of Art, Culture and Tourism that he developed during an intensively creative period between 1968 and his untimely death in 1992 remain the most popular tourist attractions on Lanzarote to this day. 

But perhaps most importantly Manrique also helped to protect the island from the worst depravations of property developers and speculators during the tourist boom – heading off the sort of ecological destruction that so devastated the Spanish Costas and indeed other Canary Islands during the 1970´s and 80´s. 

Early Years

Manrique was born on April 24th 1919 (along with his twin brother) in the island capital of Arrecife into a middle class family and quickly started to express himself fluently through his precocious talent for drawing.  Arrecife was very much a working port city at the time and the young César was fascinated by the various trades and crafts this engendered – possibly sowing the seeds for his own expressions of plastic art in later life.

The sea – namely the Atlantic – also had a profound impact on him as a child, especially during long summer breaks taken in Caleta de Famara on Lanzarote´s rugged North West coast.    Where Manrique became completely beguiled by the intense natural beauty of this setting, a fact that he himself later noted during a speech in 1992;

“Today my childhood memories are very close. Those wild summers in Caleta, where light was my personal possession and every day the sea filled the salty fisherman´s eyes of Feliciano strike me with nostalgia and joy.”

First Steps As An Artist

By 1939 Manrique – along with the rest of Spain – was emerging from the horror of the Civil War, a conflict that must have been especially injurious to the sensitive young artist and which helped to foster a stridently anti militaristic outlook. 

Manrique now started to immersed himself in the art world – making connections with Canarian sculptors such as Pancho Lasso and painters such as Alberto Sanchez, both of whom encouraged him to continue developing his obvious talent.  By 1942 Manrique was staging his first exhibition and by 1944 was showing his paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Madrid, along with other young Canarian artists.  He then moved to the capital a year later to study at the St Ferdinand Fine Arts Academy and began earning renown as one of the nation´s brightest young talents, before going on to found the Fernando Fe Gallery in 1955, which provided an ideal showcase for his abstract, non figurative works.

As is often the case with artists this growing reputation earned recognition from the corporate world and Manrique was commissioned to create paintings and murals for a number of public and private spaces, most notably at Barajas Airport in Madrid.  This brought Manrique into contact with architects and planners, sowing the seeds for his future battles with speculators whilst also providing inspiration for his own larger scale projects, such as the Jameos del Agua and the Mirador del Rio, which were both considerable feats of engineering.

New York, New York

After the bereavement of his partner Pepi in 1963 Manrique was seeking fresh stimulus and a change of scene – and decided to move to New York, which at this time was a veritable hot house of artistic and cultural expression and development.  Here Manrique came into contact with the leading players in the nascent pop art scene, such as Warhol and Rothko – influences that were to have an enormous impact on his development.

But at the same time Manrique missed Lanzarote – and was aware that the development of tourism, if left unchecked, could spell disaster for the island´s fragile volcanic landscapes, ecology and culture.

“I am a little apprehensive about the avalanche of tourists which is approaching Lanzarote.”

Return To Lanzarote

 

Jameos del Agua, Lanzarote

Jameos del Agua

Manrique was intelligent and pragmatic enough to know that tourism provided a way out of the poverty which was the norm for the vast majority of the island´s residents.  His skill lay in striking a balance between development and conservation – creating unique, ecologically friendly attractions and evolving a recognizable ‘Lanzarote brand’ for visitors to idenfify with, whilst at the same time preserving the nature of the island intact.  A philosophy that is best exemplified by his creation of the Jameos del Agua.

In conjunction with the island government he also created a model for controlled territorial planning, which effectively outlawed high rise buildings and which also confined and controlled the spread of the tourist resorts on the south coast of Lanzarote.  This proto ecological model soon won plaudits and acclaim worldwide – picking up the World Ecology and Tourism Award in 1978 and ultimately helping Lanzarote to secure the status of a World Biosphere Reserve from UNESCO in 1993.

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