Art Gaucín

© Stephanie Thompson

Art Gaucín is two consecutive weekends of Open Studios with twenty or so artists displaying their work. Friend Nina and I blitzed Art Gaucín on opening day. After a fickle spring, it felt like one of the first true days of summer: the tarmac was beginning to hold the heat and we chose to walk on the shady side of the street. It was a long, exhausting but thoroughly invigorating day.

We kicked off with Stephanie Thompson’s charming unstructured style.

I just love Steph’s use of colour and shape to create semi-abstract landscapes, an abstraction that is coming through strongly in her more recent work.

We had decided to open a virtual shopping cart for the day with one purchase per exhibitor. I could have selected any one of many but I eventually popped an uncharacteristically muted little canvas of a gold moon hanging over a white village into the basket, along with half a dozen greeting cards which I know I will struggle to part with when the time comes.

© Tim Parry

Next, Nina turned me on to Tim Parry whose brooding landscapes had a suggestion of Old Masters about them. Tim’s series of suspense-filled crowd studies were remarkable and so, although I had fallen for a pint-size portrait of an older man, my purchase here had to be “Watching Henry Higgins” if only for its reference to the obscure British matador.

Ana Pellón’s offering just along Calle Larga was very different; not only from Tim’s work but from some of her previous work. I found her mixed media and a more linear, architectural emphasis incorporating corrugated cardboard a little less accessible and the piece I chose was a fluid canvas with yellow swirls set against the deepest blue.

From there we climbed the village to J Sánchez Zabaleta’s modern studio-home. I have admired Joseba’s work for some time. His epic scenes of desolation need to be experienced in the flesh to do justice to their sheer scale and photographic quality.

© Joseba Sánchez Zabaleta

Joseba the man cannot be separated from his art; as Nina observed, even his discarded breakfast – set so casually upon an old manual typewriter – becomes a still life.

It was a tough call but although I was charmed by a small framed trace of a female face, in the end I slipped a canvas depicting an abandoned bathroom sink into my trolley.

Ceramicist Juan Antonio Sangil’s ghostly faces at El Cuartito – suggestive of porcelain death masks – stood out from his other more challenging pieces, and into my virtual basket one went. It was the kind of modest piece that would grow on me over time. At Casa Mosaica, I struggled choosing between Sian Faber’s delightful donkey and a small work immortalising our wonderful vultures – the vultures won! I would have given home-room to any one of Emma Cornish’s amazing mosaics but was particularly struck by a small plaque of a pair of gold fish. Back downstairs, Sebastian Fisher’s orange and pink sculpture, with its pod-like tendrils, joined Emma’s gold fish plaque and the Vultures in my basket.

© Vivienne Whiffen

Vivienne Whiffen and Lesley Riddihough shared an exhibition space in the Plazoleta. Lesley’s large, bold works were particularly arresting but I veered towards her cosier series of small square fruit canvases and chose one depicting cherries in a blue ceramic bowl. As a fellow photographer, I found Vivienne’s work intensely compelling. Capturing the moment without cliché is a real skill and I struggled to pin my virtual purchase down to just one item. Eventually I decided on a disparate wedding scene, the central figures all heading in opposite directions intent on their individual goals, but I might still go back for the little still life of a chair shot inside the National after it closed down, just for its provenance.

© Nuzomi Hatano

At the Atelier, Nuzomi Hatano’s waif-like mystical characters were exceptionally haunting and I lingered in front of a particularly dark canvas with a tiny otherworldly figure in one corner. But it was a small, heavily framed, russet painting with the dot of a green tree in one corner and the suggestion of a ruined castle opposite that brought me to a stop, and so another virtual purchase was made. The studio was fascinating – I loved the skeletons in Victorian dress, the meticulously arranged tools and the hand painted village gatos.  Downstairs Michael Roschlau’s powerful and intriguing large-scale clock pieces addressed notions of nationality, race and religion and incorporated found objects with humour. The sound of clocks ticking as you entered his sonorous space added to its special ambience. I loved his ‘steam punk’ clock series and was also taken with a simple charcoal grey pear against a viridian background, but it was a small three-dimensional work called Fish Head Blues that ended up in my basket.

© Jennifer Waterhouse

In complete contrast, we swung by Jenny Waterhouse’s studio next, before lunch. Of all her loose, painterly landscapes, one – of the village glimpsed through almond blossom – was so evocative of Gaucín in late winter, that into the shopping cart it went. At our first attempt to see Paddy Robinson’s work we were turned away as the unfortunate Paddy was suffering roadworks outside her very front door. But emboldened by a couple of glasses of wine over a leisurely lunch at Azulete, we tried again, this time telling the officious road worker that it was “Necessario” that we passed through, then giggling like school girls as we clambered up Paddy’s stairs to her studio. Paddy’s highly illustrative style is rich with minutiae details and clever art historical quips. Whilst there another friend (who runs summer courses on Spanish Art) bought an exquisite little painting of a Renaissance noblewoman with what I assume were her attributes. Such an effortlessly clever choice for an art historian. I chose Nightly Adventures, a work that could so perfectly have illustrated some strange and beautiful tale.

© Paddy Robinson

We stopped in at Rosie Venables’ open studio in Calle Real on the way towards the Convent, I loved her brightly coloured ceramics incorporating flora and fauna but chose a haunting ceramic face for my purchase. At Sue Callister’s, one entire wall was turned over to a montage of tiny images of the painter Joseba going about his daily life taken over a period of more than a year. The idea of a photographer documenting a painter’s life and the painter then incorporating this into a mixed media piece is intriguing. However, it was a slightly bleak still life of a shelf lined with red and white paper that made me click add to cart.

© Sara Webb

In the workshops below the convent I chose photographer Chris Kerr’s Parisian Steps from a small but select offering. Next door Caroline Gullick’s fragile ceramics embossed with delicate botanicals were a pure delight. I spotted a tiny hanging trio of a framed miniature with two glazed fragments and popped them in my basket. Then in the studio space above, I fell hard and fast for Sara Webb’s sequence of small atmospheric canvases  – my virtual shopping basket was getting heavy!

By the time we reached the Chaparro Bar a cold drink was necessary and Nina and I chatted about the art we had seen, both agreeing on how exciting it was to see not only the Spanish, but also local Spanish, wandering the streets with an Art Gaucín map in their hands. Belén Montero, our last stop, is a master quilter and her beautiful, intricate work was meticulously executed. My fantasy purchase here was a medium sized quilt comprising of four different, precisely quilted blocks of colour.

Art Gaucín is an extraordinary breadth of talent sharing an immense body of work. It is a fascinating window into the artists’ world and work spaces and personally, it was in these more intimate spaces that I lingered the longest. Some of the work is challenging but on the whole the atmosphere is welcoming and the art accessible. It is wonderful that such diversity and extraordinary gifts nestle within our vibrant little community.

Art Gaucín is held annually in late May –  visit for full details of the event. All images © the artist.

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