Farewell to Martín Chirino, magician of the spiral.
The sculptor has died but his work is eternal and with it remains this poet of space, sculptor of the wind, titan of sand and iron.
Martín Chirino just died at the age of 94. He is considered a genius of Abstract Sculpture, founder of El Paso art group and the most cosmopolitan of XX century Canarian artists. He was an art intellectual.
He never renounced his roots, Canary Islands, where he returned whenever he could. He left there a valuable legacy of his own foundation in Castillo de la Luz. He was born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in 1925, by the sea, in a family environment linked to the shipyards of Puerto La Luz.
“When I walked through the urban beach of my childhood in Las Palmas, I wondered how I could open the horizon and move on to the other side, in a way I achieved it”
From a very young age, he used tools in a world that filled him with amazement and passion for iron craftsmanship and wood carving. Decisive circumstances in his career, because his work makes continuous references to his land. Its ancestral culture exerted a powerful influence for the use of wrought iron, artisan work of deep Spanish tradition. As Antonio Saura said, he knew how to synthesise this with modern spatial theories.
“My work is not a gesture but a presence. That’s why it pursues simplicity, lacking in adhesions and false elements, trying to flow in the space growing from within. It’s organic in its forms. It doesn’t develop by attachments”
At 23 years old, Chirino traveled to Madrid to study at San Fernando School of Fine Arts. In Italy he studied the classics, completing his training in London School of Fine Arts. Back in the Canary Islands, he made “Reinas Negras”, a series influenced by African art and Surrealism.
He was one of the founders of Grupo El Paso (1958), along with artists such as Saura, Canogar, Feito, Millares, Rivera .. From the exhibition “New Spanish painters and sculptors” at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York), the presence of Chirino in USA was frequent.
He carried out monumental projects inspired by the spiral of the wind. It was a vestige inspired by the legacy of the first settlers of his native island and his research on African aesthetics.
“I consider myself a passionate stoic, from the conviction that, without passion, there is no life”
His sculptures, often large, respond to a double impulse. On one hand, the dialogue with primitive art and materials of his native islands landscape. He reads them with eyes of imaginative evocation and memory of the adolescent artist who dreamed of moving his beach horizon. On the other hand, a powerful seismic impulse that generates all kinds of curved spatial geometries.
Their beloved spirals are capable of illuminating the space that surrounds them and of being at the same time, enigma and revelation.
He was named President of the Círculo de Bellas Artes (Madrid) and Director of the Atlantic Center of Modern Art (Las Palmas).
In 2005, he inaugurated his Martin Chirino Art and Thought Foundation at Castillo de la Luz (Lightabsorved Castle), the oldest defensive fortress in the Canary Islands, from XV century. Remodelled as an artistic space, it was inaugurated by Don Felipe and Doña Letizia. Architects Nieto and Sobejano received the Alvar Aalto Architecture Medal for their rehabilitation project which was also a finalist for the Mies Van der Rohe Prize.
“My wish is that my work can be observed in the Castle of Light naturally, as if it had always been there”
His work is immense and remains in squares, museums and collections. He never stopped drawing and sculpting. Thus he fulfilled a vocation with which he challenged age until his last breath.
“I am the man who, thanks to his work, is made in one piece, but also full of doubts”
The universal artist had just finished a book, his published biography, “Sculptured Memory“. His testimony, from his insular origin, extends across three continents: Europe, where he was born and lived, Africa, key in his formation stage and America, where he lived on the banks of the Hudson River, In New York.
“I am a lonely wanderer and cosmopolitan. The only limit to perpetual nomadism is in the workshop, which is my true home”
Chirino drank from the avant-garde to become an outstanding representative of El Paso group, a bubble of novelty and informalism in Spanish post-war period.
“With these innovative wicks, I found the harmony with El Paso, which was for me an oasis of motivation, in a way unheard of, in that wasteland of Franco’s culture, when the hegemony of art was dominated by the most elemental realism”
Martín Chirino embodied, exemplary, the status of blacksmith and alchemist with an extraordinary poetic conception of sculpture.
“I live before the border that borders on mystery and danger, that crossroads, it is full boldness that makes me constantly rebel. It is the facts that define us. Creating sculptures is always living with a strange and wonderful tremor”
He rescued the primitive forge and allowed himself to transform it with the avant-garde impulse of XX century. He absorbed Julio González‘s idea of sculpture as “Drawing in space“. It is evident the tribute that his work yields to the concept “Less is more“, proclaimed by Mies van der Rohe as motto of Bauhaus school: to occupy the maximum space with as little material as possible.
The naturalism that Chirino transmitted to his irons is simplicity and austere serenity. He raffled the nihilist philosophy to suggest allegorical paths, spiral paths that convey a singular hope in dark times.
“When I discover the lives of men, I feel myself being shot into an incessant flight, I see them entangled in the daily acceptance of things as in a world of masks that is foreign to me”
In Chirino, the fire, which is fanned by the wind, occupies the center. Through fire pass the oldest transformations, to constitute a whole cosmos. In the sculptor’s worldview, the form becomes a burned-out spiral, a metaphor for the eternal movement of the universe. The spiral, its eternal emblem, starting from the first flame of aboriginal worldview. It’s the magical idea of those who thought of the world as expansion of a center, whose soul is fire and its form, a labyrinth.
“A spiral is the beginning and the end: forward and backward is the same. It’s the beginning of life and the other. I don’t know where a work begins and ends … and that’s the spiral”
From that unfathomable abyss, arises the iron circle that fire sets fire and expands. From a center that moves, the sculptor draws an order and movement that penetrates the space to make it the place of the world. Chirino‘s worldview oscillates between a rusty forest and a telluric garden, where he seeks to restore harmony. Sometimes, the symmetry darkens and an allegorical game tries to recompose the lost unit, losing itself in the labyrinth of shadows. The parts in the place of the whole, now made fragments of the absent, reconstruct a world marked by silence.
“Some suffering is inherent to the creative process, which is what the British call discomfort, and which eludes both to disagreement and to restlessness. To some extent, pain is the toll we pay to achieve well-being and harmony with ourselves”
As Chirino loved the spiral, we dare to pay him a modest homage with a positive thought. If the spiral is the beginning and the end, then, the eternal life that we hope after death, goes forward while, backward is the work done. If the artist is the origin as creator, the beginning of the life of each sculpture… then his ellipses, are the legacy of his work. We wish a happy spiral ascending trip to this genius sculptor who worked so much the material. He has now become part of that other world that awaits us all: the immaterial and ethereal dimension, the spiral going towards the unknown infinite.