César Manrique Cabrera was born on the 24th of April of 1919 in Arrecife, Lanzarote, where he spent his childhood and adolescence. Gifted for drawing from an early age, he began his studies in Technical Architecture in the University of La Laguna, but he was soon to discover that his true vocation was painting and, to pursue it, move to Madrid in 1945 to study Fine Arts in the Academy of San Fernando. He remained in this city for over a decade. During this time, many exhibitions of his art works took place both in Spain and abroad.
In 1952, motifs for his paintings were often still lives, pottery, seafaring symbols, architectural elements typical of Lanzarote – ovens, chimneypieces, wells -, as well as farming life. From 1953 on, there is however a shift towards cubism and constructivism, which started influencing his paintings after a trip to Paris in which he met Picasso and was widely exposed to art works. That was the start of his using new techniques and materials; there is a clear prevalence of earth tones – which over time would evolve into igneous reddish tones, resembling the colours in lava. In 1964 he moved to New York. In the big city, he was in direct contact with American abstract expressionism in all spheres of art, becoming imbued in a different culture that would ultimately influence his artistic production. In spite of all of the above, paintings he produced during this period of time reflect nostalgia through their motifs and the names they are given – Geria, Femés, Caleta -, a number of which are names of places in Lanzarote closely linked to the artist’s childhood and memories in the island.
In 1966, he made a decision to return to his native island permanently. Tourism in Lanzarote was just blooming at that time, and César Manrique, who after his time in New York valued even more the natural beauty of his homeland, became deeply involved in the process to promote a model of development compatible with the preservation of Lanzarote’s nature, landscape and culture. His participation in such projects leaned him towards other artistic branches and so he embarked on public landscape projects: gardens, viewpoints, roads, reconditioning deteriorated spaces, coastal areas, etc. In most cases, he would utilize the whimsical shapes of the topography originated by lava flows – land protrusions, crags, volcanic tubes, caves, coastal rocky platforms… -, always seeking to integrate them in the natural surroundings and using local architectural models and materials. It is safe to say that Manrique set a precedent in that respect. His first work in this field was Los Jameos del Agua (Lanzarote, 1968), followed by the Mirador del Río viewpoint, the Jardín de Cáctus garden and the Costa Martiánez maritime park in Puerto de La Cruz, amongst others.
Since the mid-80s, his international presence increased when he was awarded several significant prizes to his artistic work: the Goslarer Mönchehaus Award in the Art and Environment category (1981), the Europa Nostra Award (1985), the Fritz Schumacher Architecture Award (1989), and the Canarias Prize in the category of Fine Arts (1989), to name but a few. In 1992, he was working on several projects such as the Mirador de El Palmarejo viewpoint of Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera, the Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo maritime park, in Ceuta, the Parque Marítimo de Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the Centro Comercial La Vaguada 2 shopping centre in Madrid, etc., when he passed away in a car crash near the César Manrique Foundation, which has carried on his work to preserve the landscape ever since.
César Manrique was a multifaceted artist who captured the force of the volcanic nature in his work in a surprisingly creative manner, and proved it possible to integrate art in natural environments.