View of the Red Sea, Watercolor on Paper, Mohammed Shamma, 2013
Art General, Earth and the Environment

The Color of Water

Angles, Light and Water - Intercontinental Hotel - Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, 2003

Angles, Light and Water – Intercontinental Hotel – Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, 2003

Water has always been a difficult mystery for me.  As a young child I feared the deep end of the pool more than I feared the night.  When the time came for my swim lessons, I would simply tell my mother, “I lost my bathing suit.”  Naturally she knew my little trick and always found it.  She then proceeded to drag me to the pool while I whimpered about how cold it was or of the sharks living in the deep end.  Bedtime was a different story.  I would boldly tell my mother that I wasn’t afraid of monsters and if they try to attack me in my dreams, I would hit them and kick them until they ran away.  I always awoke the next morning to a wet bed.  Somehow, in my effort to fight my own dream demons, to slay the sea creatures of my night, I felt the urge to empty my bladder.

I grew up in Houston, Texas and witnessed many many rainy days and flash floods.  When I was ten years old, we prepared for hurricane Alicia.  We taped up our windows and slept between two walls of mattresses as the storm pounded away at our fragile wooden house.  And when the storm passed, we went outside and observed the destruction in the form of fallen pine and oak trees throughout the neighborhood.  Some had fallen into streets while others fell on houses.  The memory of Alicia returned to me as I witnessed the destruction of Katrina.  My heart wept for the destitute and the dead.

I once spent a summer in Egypt with my uncle and his family.  My cousins and I decided to take a Nile cruise to Aswan and hire a taxi from there to Abu Simbel.  The drive was about two hours and the heat was intense.  Along the way we passed a caravan of camels, abandoned homes and the occasional military outpost backdropped by desert and multiple mirages.  After an hour we stopped at a mud brick building and I watched a boy no older than fourteen come out of nowhere, lift the hood, open the radiator cap and fill it with water.  The driver must have driven this road several times over because he knew how far his car could go between each rest stop.  I remember pouring water in my hand and watching it evaporate instantly before my eyes.  Under such extreme conditions, water is like the precious moment in our lives that we want never to end.

I recently painted this photo because I wanted to explore the color of water once again in my life.  I took the photo ten years ago from the view of the hotel in Sharm El-Sheikh.  The color was absolutely intense it was like a dream.  I remember feeling blinded by the whiteness of the balcony as I gazed down at the hues of cyan, ultramarine and cobalt below.  The color and texture of the water  was the most challenging part of the painting for me.  I wanted to desperately recreate that short-lived moment during which I snapped the photo and simply walked away.

Art General, Artists, Earth and the Environment, Museum Collections, Politics

Eduardo Chillida- Peine del Viento, 1976

It’s no surprise that Eduardo Chillida chose a mountain for his magnum opus.  His work is monumental because for Chillida the backdrop or context of his works were just as significant to his message as the piece itself.  His work “Wind Combs” and his eulogies to water and the horizon pay homage to the elements of nature.  While at the same time he emphasizes the harsh relationship between man and nature by placing steel and iron structures against the solemn backdrop of wind, water and the horizon.

Chillida is perhaps one of Europe’s most prolific sculptors of the 20th century.

Haizearen Orrazia / Peine del Viento, Eduardo Chillida, Donostia (Some rights reserved by Sebastià Giralt)

Haizearen Orrazia / Peine del Viento, Eduardo Chillida, Donostia (Some rights reserved by Sebastià Giralt)

His work is installed throughout Europe, Iran, Japan and the United States.  His preferred medium was iron, but he also sculpted in clay, wood, plaster, alabaster and concrete.  He was born in the Basque city of San Sebastian in 1924 and left only to study architecture in Madrid in 1943.  Disenchanted with his studies, he decided to move to Paris in 1948 and work as a sculptor.

In 1984, he and his wife bought the Zabalaga farmhouse in the town of Hernani, just outside of San Sebastian.  They would slowly expand the property and restore the farmhouse until it was ready for unveiling as the Chillida-Leku Museum in 2000.  Unfortunately, Eduardo died in 2002 due to complications with Alzheimer’s disease.

Chillida Leku (Some rights reserved by jandiano)

Chillida Leku (Some rights reserved by jandiano)

Eduardo’s death and a sharp economic downturn in 2008 seemed to take the life out of the museum.  The next two years would be difficult for the museum and the Chillida family.  The museum appears to have made modest attempts at soliciting external funding, producing special exhibits and participating in public outreach.  By 2010 the museum would be forced to close its doors even though over forty prominent Spanish artists demanded that the Basque government keep it open.  Twelve of Chillida’s sculptures are on sale in an effort to recover the losses incurred by the museum.

Eduardo’s death also came before he was able to begin work on his dream project, a mountain cave roughly 40 meters (131 ft) on each side that would be accessible from an 80 meter long tunnel.   He started planning this project in the mid-1980’s and had several offers from Italy, Finland and Switzerland before he settled on Mount Tindaya on Fuerteventura (poulation 103,492) in the Canary Islands.  He called this project a “Monument to Tolerance”, which seems rather ironic because there’s nothing ecologically, culturally or archaeologically tolerant about it.  The project, if completed, will destroy about 64,000 cubic metres of rock from within the mountain.  The mining rights alone cost 250 million euros.  If that’s not enough, it will also threaten the integrity of roughly 100 podomorphs(foot carvings) that were discovered in 1978 and date back to the Majoreros who were a Neolithic people that arrived on the  island sometime between 1,000 and 300 BC.

In fact, Chillida admitted that the project had caused him nothing but depression and insomnia as the controversy over the Tindaya

Tindaya (Some rights reserved by mataparda)

Tindaya (Some rights reserved by mataparda)

mountain project progressed.  Ironically, Chillida claimed that the podomorphs resembled his signature when he saw them for the first time.  He also noted that they were neglected and sometimes defaced because the local government was not protecting them.   It retrospect is seems that Eduardo Chiilida’s effort to honor tolerance by excavating a mountain created a backlash of intolerance towards his work that “worships” the environment.

In January of this year a protest against the project was held outside the Canary Islands Parliament.  Participants held banners saying “Tindaya no se toca” (“Do not touch Tindaya”).  Similar protests were held in Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria.  The Facebook group Cadena Humana Tindaya is also encouraging people to form a human chain around the proposed construction site and defend the mountain.

An Homage to Tolerance: Chillida’s Dream and the Sacred Mountain