In the intimacy of the Studio
Alicia / Javier Chillida
is the sea, the sea, only the sea.
Whitout shores, without rocks,
only sea and wind.
Sea and wind.
Only sea and wind.
Joaquín Gurruchaga (1)
This exhibition is an initial retrospective outline of the work by Gonzalo Chillida. It uses the intimacy of the space of the ganbara del Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea to present a selection of works he conserved over time and which, like a private collection, were withdrawn from sale and carefully kept in his studio for years. Most of them are small and medium-sized oil paintings from the 1950s to the end of his life. His first still lifes, which focus on geometry in the search for form and concept, are followed by the forms, where he experiments with sculptures in plaster and collages, in which nature is the fundamental model: the crystallisation of minerals, fossils, stratified rock formations, the superimposition of mountain plains… They all constitute an area of experimentation until, in 1960, he found the space that becomes an emblem for capturing beauty and the mystery of reality: the limit between sea and sand, where durability turns fugitive, the reflection of the light from the sky on the surface of the water. From here, the chronological sequence of his work blurs and the subject matter becomes abstract until his last works, dated in 2007. The discovery of this intermediate place opens the sands series, which becomes the central theme of his work, together with the seascapes, skies and forests, as well as the landscape he recreates in the views of his town, the mountains or Castile, where the mist, snow and light assume a leading role.
The works in this exhibition show the tension between the two scales on which Gonzalo Chillida’s painting slides: micro and macro. This is where he shows his personal view of nature, which brings broad views into minimal pictorial spaces, combining them with a magnification of the smallest detail of the landscape blown up into a large canvas. Thus, we could think of what scientists refer to as a ‘fractal dimension’ (2), a new image in the entirety composed of a hidden natural order capable of revealing more of the ways in which regularity and stability, in that order, can come from underlying turbulence and chance.
In 1965 Gonzalo Chillida collaborates on the book by Juan Ramón Jiménez: El Nuevo Mar, with the publisher Rafael Casariego: ‘Chillida returned with several sketches and started his prints for the book. How many did he discard? I don’t think he will know. Each time he started his work on a new stone, he conceived the sea with fewer visual references but with more tectonic characters and, paradoxically, as the sea lost specific elements and meaning, it gained in rhythm, freedom and feeling and its marks fused together in a reality of illusion; with each new test, he undid the notion of time and form to get closer and closer to the absoluteness of the sea’ (3).
For Antonio Saura, despite their small size, some of Gonzalo Chillida’s work gives observers the impression of looking at much larger pieces, finding a whole range of situations in a larger space, which, in principle, can be prolonged in every sense. ‘As if the images we see were nothing more than a fragment of a much greater plastic phenomenon, allowing the eyes (and even forcing them) to continue their course beyond the limits of the picture. However, this space, occupied by elements that are transparent, light and vaporous, is constructed and paradoxically organised because, under its fluent, random appearance, there is genuine underlying composition and it is held up by an invisible structure. In the sands, the reference to reality is never explicit, always the sea, sky, sand – a seascape transformed into a mental scenario’ (4)*. As is true of oriental art, Chillida approaches painting as if the imprecision and mist, which is there to be seen, were the only way of transmitting his passion for nature, avoiding views that are clear or direct.
During his life, Gonzalo Chillida avoided speaking about his work in public. However, in a text that has been recently discovered, he argues: ‘I am a great nature-lover. The colours and mists that can be seen in my paintings actually exist in our countryside, even though I sometimes idealise them and they do not correspond to reality and become abstract painting. I find the sea particularly attractive. I never wanted to live life without seeing it. This does not mean that I am impressed only by this landscape; I also like Castile, with its greys, ochres and red lands, its sea- like plains’ (5)*. This is the idea that leads Miguel Zugaza to describe Chillida, in his generation, as ‘the first landscape painter among the abstract artists’ (6). Gabriel Celaya writes about an easy Impressionist interpretation of these paintings, describing them as metaphysical insofar as they reveal the cosmic solitude of the being. ‘On this level, the differences between abstract and figuration no longer make sense. What is now important is the physiognomy of the universe in every order, in other words, those manifestations of the being that go beyond figuration which we say we understand when all they actually do is refer us to something they are not’ (7).
Chillida admired the field of colour and strength of Rothko’s works, the intensity and dispossession of Tàpies, the sobriety of the last coastal landscapes by Braque. And the freedom and brushstrokes of Goya, always Goya… With Monet, another of the artists he admired, he was concerned at the end of his life by what he referred to as the ‘instantaneities’, nature was thus perceived in its atomisation. In his later years, he painted the pond in his Giverny garden time and time again, water landscapes that reproduce the watercourse itself and a horizon with no borders. He said that he merely obeyed instinct ‘because I have rediscovered the huge powers of intuition, which I allow to take over in my work, and so I have been able to identify myself with the created world and lose myself in it’ (8). The microscopic view finds an unstable world of metamorphosis, an insatiable search for that natural instant in which sensation is prolonged. This legacy of a near-blind painter will be essential for the artists of the second half of the 20th century.
Parallel to painting, Gonzalo Chillida takes an exhaustive selection of photographs that make up a huge Landscape Atlas, comprising thousands of pictures, of which a small portion are being shown to the public for the first time. The photographs taken with his analogical Leica camera from the 1950s and developed by himself all respond to a specific, recurring view that looks to capture in an instant an atmospheric quality or optimal framing. He occasionally creates photomontages to obtain a broader or panoramic view and develop long series with variations of the same motif at almost the same moment in time. At times, photography becomes the base or main subject of his paintings.
In the year 2000, Gonzalo (our father) worked with the architect Xabier Unzurrunzaga on the project for the church of Benta-Berri, where he painted on site the mural at the apse in collaboration with his son, Juan Chillida. Egunsentia/Dawn, the title of the work, is a recurring motif in his paintings: a sea of mountains, the view of the inland valleys of Gipuzkoa and Navarra in the mist. In 2005, he did the Pavilion of Igeldo -a project by Alicia Chillida in collaboration with the architect Luis Enguita- set on the outer slopes of the mountain, where, in his later years, Gonzalo went almost every day at dusk to photograph the twilight, ‘the sky, that other pure infinity whose only natural equal is the sea’ (9). He did a painting for each wall of the pavilion and wanted to left empty the wall that faces the sea. The Pavilion of Igeldo responds to Gonzalo Chillida’s dream of having a studio in this location, a place for solitude and calm. A dream that still remains alive for us.
- Joaquín GURRUCHAGA, El suave aire del mar en todas partes. 2.XXX, Calambur Editorial S.L., Madrid, 1996.*
- J. Y. BRIGGS.; F. D. PEAT, Fractales. Ed. Digital, 2000. p. 18.
- Juan Ramón JIMÉNEZ, El Nuevo Mar. Numbered and signed edition with 11 prints by Gonzalo Chillida. Col. Tiempo para la Alegría, Ed. R. Díaz Casariego, Madrid 1965.
- Antonio SAURA, El mar de Gonzalo Chillida. Exhib. Catal., Galería Elvira González, Madrid, 1994.*
- Chillida Ameztoy Archive. Author’s manuscript, n.t./ n.d.
- Miguel ZUGAZA, Presentation of the monograph Gonzalo Chillida. Pintura/Paintins. Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2006.
- Gabriel CELAYA, Gonzalo Chillida. Exhib. Catal., Galería Theo, Madrid, 1979.*
- Daniel WILDESTEIN, Claude Monet. Biography and itemised catalogue, vol. IV. Lausanne-Paris, 1985.
- Francisco CALVO SERRALLER, Pintar al límite. Exhib. Catal., Ed. Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao, 1989.*
* Compiled and referenced in the monograph Gonzalo Chillida. Pintura/Paintings, Tf Editores, Madrid 2006.
Exhibition Catalogue. Gonzalo Chillida, Sala Ganbara, Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea, Donostia-San Sebastián, 2013.