Friday, July 10, 2009

Amazing Spain

I've returned last week from the most incredible 35-day trip, where I spent two days in France, and the remainder in Spain. My main objective was to walk/backpack the 800km Camino Francés that starts in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port France and ends in Santiago the Compostella Spain. I had planned 29 walking days for this trek. Things went so well in fact that I was able to cover the distance in 28. Just incredible weather, sunshine almost every day, with only about 6 hours of rain while I was walking. The landscape was breathtaking, on certain days it felt as if I was walking through a picture Post Card. So much history has occurred on this route that dates more than a millennium.



The fraternity between pilgrims was like nothing I had ever experienced. At times, it felt like a meeting of the United Nations. I made so many great friends, made so many connections. The warmth of the local Spanish people was equally remarkable. I was lucky to have been spared any major injuries, only 3 tiny blisters. On the final walking day, my marathon running past came back to haunt me, so I opted to walk the marathon distance of 42,2km (well actually, it was 42,6km) , which made it even more significant for me. It was a journey of a life time, one for the ages.



Any travel would not be complete without taking advantage of the art along the way. After landing in Toulouse France, I was off to visit the city. My art stops included la Salle des Illustes at the Capitale (city hall). Here, gigantic mural-like impressionist paintings of Henri Martin and Paul Gervais adorn the walls. In the hall next door, a civil wedding was taking place, after which the bridal party had their picture taken in front of the Gervais masterpieces with a theme of love and marriage. I was then off to l'Hôtel d'Assézat, home of the Foundation Bemberg and it's excellent collection of paintings ranging from Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Monet, Degas, R, Duffy, Gauguin and especially Pierre Bonnard of which there was at least 3 dozen paintings. All housed in the city's most elegant Renaissance mansion built in 1555 by Nicholas Bachelier.



Along the Camino, the art could be found mostly in the hundreds of churches. Some ranging from the size of a small chapel to the most elaborate, sophisticated and largest Gothic church I have ever seen, the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Burgos, built over a 400 year period. The above photo is only a portion of the structure. It has to be seen, as no words can quite describe it. There is an enormous amount of wealth in these institutions. It is impossible not to marvel at the talented individuals who created the frescoes, paintings, wood and stone carvings, sculptures, architecture and overall craftsmanship found here.



I also had the opportunity to visit the very colorful Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon. The MUSAC is the most important contemporary museum in the province of Leon. While in Santiago de Compostella, I visited the Centre Galego de Arte Contempranea, another large multi level space. Exhibitions in contemporary art galleries either cater to geniuses creating innovative conceptual art and installations and/or on the obscure, avant-garde, issues dealing with censorship, morality, underground culture, often explicit and graphic material, to push your buttons and at time to shock you. Well, these were no different even if they were on the route of the third most holiest pilgrimage in Christianity. Admission is free, meaning that these institutions are government funded. When Andy Warhol said, ''Art is what you can get away with''.......he was right!!!



But my real ''Coup de coeur'' happened in Madrid, where I spent 3 days sight-seeing before returning home. It happened at the Museo Sorolla. Joachin Sorolla (1863-1923) was a Spanish born impressionist painter who lived in Madrid. In 1932, his exquisite home and studio was transform into a museum following his death. I can't really recall seeing any of his work except in art books. As you pass through the street gate that leads you into a wonderful enchanted garden, the experience of stepping into his world has already begun. While entering the third of interconnected studios spaces where he painted, my jaw dropped and at that moment he went from being an obscure painter to one of my all-time favorite. In the larger room with a vaulted ceiling, paintings were hung salon style, his paint box and brushes were all there. A creative space that exuded a palpable energy. The museum continues on the ground level into the living and dining room of his residence and for another four rooms on the second floor. There was easily 80 paintings in all on display.


As luck would have it, my newly found admiration for Sorolla's work would reach a climax, as the Museo del Prado was hosting a major retrospective of his work until September 6. My admission ticket even had a pre-set viewing time, as the entire space was elbow to elbow. In the first room, the instant I saw the very fair-skin female nude seated on a marble base that can be seen on this link , I instantly became teary eyed. I knew I was in the presence of a genius. The way he paints light, the whites, his use of pastel colors, the contrasts, his compositions and subject matter really sets him apart. It's moments like these are when you can truly connect with art and see how it contribute to society and becomes an essential part of what it means to feel alive.

All of the figures studies set along the shoreline and marine paintings with the wind blowing in the white canvas sails that has light coming from behind, becoming illuminated in both pastel and the darker contrasting shadows being cast from the masts and the folds......well, they just took my breath away.

The Prado Museum has one of the finest collection of European art from the 12th to the early 19th century, featuring spanish master painters from the golden age - Goya, El Greco and Diego Velazquez, who's painting ''Las Meninas'' is considered by some as the most famous painting in the world. For the most part, the art found here are mostly Academic paintings. In all, I spent 4½ hours there.


After El Prado comes the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Spain's national museum of 20th century art. Several temporary exhibits included a compelling retrospective of Juan Munoz and the permanent collection that includes many Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Guillermo Perez Villata, Sigfrido Martin Begué to name a few. Outside the Reina Sofia is the enormous sculptural work entitled ''Brushstroke'' by Roy Lichtenstein as shown above.



The masterpiece of Reina Sofia is Picasso's Guernica as shown above. The mural size painting had a whole room to itself, and was jam-packed with people. I only got to view the painting from a side angle.


The last of the Golden Triangle of Art is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum that also includes the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. For it's overall collection, this one was my favorite. It houses a very impressive collection of old Flemish and Dutch masters, and an equally impressive list of international artists like John Singer Sargent, Marc Chagall, Childe Hassem, William Merritt Chase, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Piet Mondrian, Lucian Freud....just to name a few. And what could be better than a Richard Estes painting.....how about three. And of course a retrospective of the brilliant French impressionist painter, Henri Matisse.

5 comments:

  1. Welcome back, Alvin! Thank you so much for posting such a wonderful travelog of your journey for us to enjoy. The pictures are fabulous, as is the amount of art you were able to enjoy first hand... wow! Such a trip - the stuff of legends and story-telling. I am very happy for you that you had this opportunity, and I am also very happy you are back safely.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Alvin, Glad to hear your camino walk went well--it was a life changing journey for me. In 1999 I visited the Sorolla home/museum. At that time I had not started my painting life, but was enthralled with his work, and his working environment. Although I had visited many art museums, that year in Europe, I think it may have been on seeing Sorolla's work, in his personal space that I said "I wanted to do this"

    ReplyDelete
  3. The story of your trip is the best thing I've heard in a long time, Alvin. What an amazingly wonderful solo adventure!

    ReplyDelete
  4. He's back!!

    Amazing indeed, Alvin!

    Wow, it sounds and looks like an amazing adventure.

    Thanks for sharing the photos of the trip along the way!

    -Dean

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Alvin - What an amazing, inspirational experience! Thanks for sharing. Your latest work is as beautiful as ever!

    ReplyDelete