Abstract “modern” art is nothing to be afraid of. It’s actually been around for millennia because it gives humans of all ages sheer pleasure and joy, and on Lanzarote, you’re in the perfect place to enjoy it and turn it into part of your lifestyle.
The idea that art has to look like something (figurative art) is fairly recent. While our ancestors drew incredibly detailed painting of oxen and horses on cave walls, they also drew human stick figures next to them and were incredibly fond of repeated geometric patterns, handprints and other patterns that are clearly not meant to reflect any reality.
Small children also tend to prefer the sheer pleasure of colours, shapes, lines and texture to the craft of reflecting the world visually. It’s a feeling that’s common to all children, of all cultures, and it’s one that never goes away in even the most ancient and venerated of artists.
Over the last 150 years, artists have gradually moved back to abstract art, starting with Turner’s dynamic, intense seascapes and Whistler’s night skies that were first described as “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”
Later, artists adopted all sorts of techniques to create artworks, often underpinning their ideas with the sort of philosophical and aesthetic theories that may be fascinating to experts but tend to put off newcomers. Often, however, that doesn’t affect the impact of the work. The first response is always the most telling.
Mondrian’s geometric, vivid blocks of colour have been copied by thousands of designers, while the spatter paintings of Jackson Pollock, Rothko’s deep, emotional bars of colour and Georgia O’Keeffe’s semi-abstract painting of plants have become 20th century icons.
The move towards the abstract can be seen clearly in the work of Lanzarote’s most famous artist, César Manrique. Manrique set out as a painter of figurative scenes of local landscapes, but visit his stunning murals in the UNED building in Arrecife and you’ll see how he soon started to paint idealised, sturdy peasant figures and landscapes that literally burst out of their frames.
By the 1960s, Manrique had become almost entirely abstract, depicting deep, glowing scenes that look like a glimpse into a volcano or creating brightly coloured “Flags of the Cosmos”.
In fact, on Lanzarote, abstract painting is often the most appropriate response to a landscape that is, in itself, deeply strange. Try and paint the beach at Janubio, for example, and you’ll end up with bands of dark grey, jet black, foam white, sea green and sky blue that look totally abstract. The same goes for the bruised ochres, cobalt blues and sulphur yellows of Timanfaya.
Many of the artists working on Lanzarote today, such as Ildefonso Aguilar and Rufina Santana, have discovered that abstraction is the best way to reflect an island of stark, primal beauty. Meanwhile, a stroll through Teguise Market on Sunday, Haria market on a Saturday or any of the art galleries dotted all over the island will show you that abstract art is here to stay.
Part of the pleasure of knowing Lanzarote is learning about its art scene, and plenty of locals, as well as new arrivals, have bought artworks from locally-based artists they’ve come to love.
One of the standard responses to highly- priced modern art is the dismissive phrase “I could paint that myself for free.”
Strangely, you never see anyone who says this sort of thing actually doing it, but painting’s not restricted to the experts – anyone can express themselves through artistic means.
Lanzarote offers everything that artist could possibly need in terms of equipment and supplies, and once you get started you may soon find yourself addicted.
With a little practice and experience, you’ll soon find that your own works may be every bit as satisfying as abstract pieces that cost thousands.