No one tends to be a prophet in their own land, but César Manrique was. He is the leading light of modern art in the Canaries. An architect, landscape designer, sculptor and painter, but he was and is much more than a multi-faceted artist who left his mark; he was a visionary who shaped and defined the essence of his greatest work: his native island, Lanzarote.
Born in Arrecife (Lanzarote) in 1919, César Manrique studied in Madrid, abandoning Architecture for the Fine Arts. He later moved to New York, the mecca of art in the ‘60s, and it was there that he began to long for his island and its exhilarating volcanic nature.
As he wrote to his friend, the artist Pepe Dámaso:
“I feel nostalgia for the true nature of things. For the purity of the people. For the bareness of my landscape and for my friends. In New York, man is like a rat, he was not created for this artificiality. There is an imperious need to return to the land. To touch it. To smell it.”
When we say that César Manrique was a visionary, we mean that as well as being an artist, he was a fierce defender and advocate of sustainability and the landscape in times when there was no awareness around these issues.
His vision of the relationship between nature, man and art was unique at that time and absolutely essential today.
The four key traits that made César Manrique a true visionary
His committed fight to protect the landscape
The artist was obsessed with preserving the magical landscapes of Lanzarote and ensuring that they remained unchanged. Where most people saw only stones and open spaces, he saw infinite beauty.
His need to integrate art into life
His masterpieces could not be housed in a museum because César Manrique saw art as something that should coexist in complete harmony with nature and the everyday lives of people.
His struggle and activism in support of truly sustainable tourism
The Canary Islands have always been the goose that laid the golden egg, a natural paradise where it’s always springtime.
And the activist and rebellious side of the artist could not be clearer than in his fight against tourism ventures and the uncontrolled construction boom in the ‘70s and ‘80s to exploit the economic potential of the islands.
César Manrique knew that Lanzarote had to go against the trend of destroying open spaces and constructing large tourist complexes. To set an example to the world, it had to be different; it had to subtly combine art, nature and ecology. His approach was overwhelmingly logical: if it copied the tourism model of elsewhere, why would people want to come here?
And based on this way of looking at tourism, César Manrique designed the Centres of Art, Culture and Tourism. True works of art, blending into the landscape of Lanzarote and enabling you to discover the island in a unique way.
His respect for tradition
On returning from New York, he began a campaign aimed at raising local awareness of the value of the island’s traditional architecture.
He explained the importance of refusing to be dragged into the trend of using modern materials such as aluminium instead of wood, and encouraged, among other things, respect for the classic colour codes. It is thanks to him that Lanzarote still has its white houses, with blue woodwork if less than 300m from the coast and green woodwork if inland.
Lanzarote, César Manrique’s fine work of art
A walk on the island is undoubtedly a walk through the eyes of César Manrique. Lanzarote bears witness to his great ambition as an artist and showcases his vision for the future; it is his great masterpiece.
To grasp the magnitude of César Manrique’s legacy, you need to explore Lanzarote and then leave the island and head for any other tourist destination.
Only through this contrast of realities can you truly appreciate the beauty and harmony of this unique island.
These are the works by César Manrique that you can’t afford to miss if you come to Lanzarote:
Jameos del Agua
This was the first Centre of Art, Culture and Tourism to be designed by César Manrique and one of the finest examples of harmony between art and nature.
To create this work, the artist made use of the inside of a volcanic tunnel in which he created a natural concert hall of indescribable beauty. And beside it lies a garden of palm trees with an artificial lake of turquoise waters.
Mirador del Río
Opened in the ‘70s, this viewpoint is one of his most iconic works of architecture.
It stands on the top of a cliff and offers stunning views of Lanzarote and the Chinijo Archipelago.
From here you can see the foothills of the Risco de Famara mountains and then “El Río” (meaning ‘the river’), a narrow strip of sea that separates Lanzarote from the island of La Graciosa. Beyond, you can also see Montaña Clara, the Roque del Oeste and Alegranza, which along with the Roque del Este, form the Chinijo Archipelago.
His Wind Toys
The artist’s work is not limited to architecture, he has also left an important legacy of sculptures. His “Juguetes del Viento,” or ‘wind toys’, enormous mobiles, can be found in different parts of Lanzarote: the roundabout in Tahíche, the Airport, the roundabout on Avenida de las Playas (in Puerto del Carmen), to name a few.
Lanzarote was his masterpiece, and his footprint has remained firmly embedded in the island forever, preserving the magic that you will feel as soon as you set foot on the island.