Painter? Architect? Sculptor? Interior Designer? Just how do you pigeonhole César Manrique? It´s not easy to label Lanzarote's most famous resident; as this creative Canarian's flights of fancy encompassed all of these disciplines - and many others too. And his imprint on his beloved birthplace is totally inescapable - as any visitor to the island will testify.
Wind Toys to Cultural Attractions
Roundabouts are adorned with giant colourful wind toys, while unique cultural attractions, such as the Jameos del Agua and Mirador del Rio, fuse art with nature to breathtaking effect.
Indeed, his influence is so pervasive that it even incorporates the invisible.
Thanks to Manrique there are no advertising hoardings scarring the island and high-rise buildings are banned.
Even local homeowners are encouraged to get in on the act, by eschewing more colourful palettes for traditional white walls and green or blue woodwork, thus creating a pleasing, island-wide, aesthetic harmony.
Certainly Manrique himself fought shy of any attempts to categorise his work, finding such labels constraining:
“Classifications are negative because they weaken art.”
Force of Nature
His guiding principle, above all else, was to work in harmony with nature and from a young age he was totally consumed by the unique beauty of Lanzarote. Family holidays, for example, would be spent marvelling at the reflections of the cliffs at Famara in rock pools and the ebbing tide.
This passion for the island, from the twisted lavascapes of Timanfaya in the south to the verdant valleys of Haria in the north, sparked both artistic inspiration and a desire to ensure the island's preservation.
In the late 1960s, Lanzarote faced the prospect of being buried beneath a sea of five star concrete as package tourism began to take off in Spain. Whilst other sun spots ran headlong into the arms of mass-market, high rise development Manrique counselled restraint:
“I believe that we are witnessing an historical moment where the huge danger to the environment is so evident that we must conceive a new responsibility with respect to the future.”
Profits v Prophets
This ecological approach was a totally unique form of thinking in Franco's Spain, or indeed anywhere, in the late 1960's. Developers on the Costas and the Canaries wanted profits, not prophets.
Manrique had already made a small impact on Lanzarote, having completed a series of murals at El Parador de Turismo in Arrecife – El Viento, La Pesca and La Vendimia – and similar works at the airport in 1963.
But now the well-connected César (who had, incidentally, fought for Franco during the Civil War) was able to enlist the help of old family friend Pepin Ramirez, who also just happened to head up the island's Insular Council (or Cabildo).
Together, they marshalled both influential opinion and a small army of often forgotten co-conspirators, such as the artist and architect Luis Ibañez.
Art and Nature
With this backing and assistance, Manrique was able to put his ideas into practice, starting with the creation of the Jameos del Agua from a collapsed lava tube in 1966 and the construction of his own house and studio in five volcanic bubbles in Tahiche.
These two unique unions of art and nature cemented Manrique's reputation and illuminated an alternative path for island development. Whilst also helping to put Lanzarote on the map as an exciting new tourist destination.
Over the following decades until his death in 1992, Manrique built on this credibility, master-minding other unique cultural attractions such as the Volcano Park at Timanfaya.
Defending the Landscape
Simultaneously, he fought an ongoing battle against any body or institution that sought to erode or dilute the island's natural beauty, viewing Lanzarote, effectively, as the work of art:
“Lanzarote is like an unframed, unmounted work of art and I hung it and held it up for all to see.”
His work as an ecologist was ultimately rewarded in 1993, when Lanzarote became the first island in the world to be designated a UNESCO biosphere.
As well as the more famous attractions, such as the Jameos del Agua and the Mirador del Rio César Manrique was also responsible for a number of less well known projects on Lanzarote.