Eduardo Chillida was a Spanish artist known for his colossal public installations. Working primarily in iron, wood, and steel, Chillida’s interlocking sculptures reflected his interest in space and materiality. “The sculptures are very large and my work is a rebellion against gravity,” the artist explained. “A dialectic exists between the empty and full space.” Similar to fellow Spaniard Antoni Tàpies, the sculptor works within abstraction, employing geometric forms and linked shapes to create towering and physically imposing works.
Born on January 10, 1924 in San Sebastián, Spain, Chillida studied architecture at the University of Madrid but turned to art and moved to Paris in 1948. Upon returning to Spain in the 1950s, his focus turned toward light, landscape, and spatial concerns. A winner of the Grand International Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1958, Chillida died August 19, 2002 in his hometown of San Sebastián, Spain at the age of 78. His own museum, the Museo Chillida-Leku, opened in 2000 in Hermani, Spain.
Chillida's earliest sculptures concentrated on the human form (mostly torsos and busts); his later works tended to be more massive and more abstract, and included many monumental public works.Chillida himself tended to reject the label of "abstract", preferring instead to call himself a "realist sculptor".
Upon returning to the Basque Country in 1951, Chillida soon abandoned the plaster he used in his Paris works – a medium suited to his study of archaic figurative works in the Louvre. Living near Hernani, he began to work in forged iron with the help of the local blacksmith, and soon set up a forge in his studio. From 1954 until 1966, Chillida worked on a series entitled Anvil of Dreams, in which he used wood for the first time as a base from which the metal forms rise up in explosive rhythmic curves.
He began to make sculpture in alabaster 1965. Rather than turn over a maquette of a sculpture to fabricators, as many modern artists do, Chillida worked closely with the men in the foundry. He then usually added an alloy that caused the metal to take on a brilliant rust color as it oxidizes.
From quite early on, Chillida's sculpture found public recognition, and, in 1954, he produced the four doors for the basilica of Arantzazu, where works by other leading Basque sculptors – Jorge Oteiza, Agustin Ibarrola and Nestor Basterretxea – were also being installed. The following year, he carved a stone monument to the discoverer of penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming, for a park in San Sebastián (it subsequently disappeared, but a new version has been installed on the promenade at San Sebastián bay).By the early 1970s, his steel sculptures had been installed in front of the Unesco headquarters in Paris, the ThyssenKrupp building in Düsseldorf, and in a courtyard at the World Bank offices in Washington
At their best his works, although massive and monumental, suggest movement and tension. For example, the largest of his works in the United States, De Musica is an 81-ton steel sculpture featuring two pillars with arms that reach out but do not touch. Much of Chillida's work is inspired by his Basque upbringing, and many of his sculptures' titles are in the Basque language Euskera. His steel sculpture De Música III was exhibited at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the UK, as part of a retrospective of Chillida's work.
Chillida also conceived a distinguished oeuvre of etchings, lithographs and woodcuts since 1959, including illustrations for Jorge Guillen's Mas Alla (1973) and various other books.
In the 1990s, Chillida set up a foundation for the display of his work, at the Chillida Leku, centred on an old farmhouse, in the Basque countryside. Today there is an outdoor sculpture garden dedicated to his work.
Monument to Tolerance, Fuerteventura
According to Chillida's plans for a Monument of Tolerance, an artificial cave is to be bored into the mountain. The huge cubic cave, measuring 40 metres (131 ft) along each side, is to be dug from inside a mountain that has long been revered by the inhabitants of the dusty, barren island to the south of Lanzarote. About 64,000 cubic metres of rock will be taken away from the mountain, which rises out of an arid landscape in the north of the island, to create what Chillida called his 'monument to tolerance'. Chillida's original idea was for visitors to experience the immensity of the space.
The project has been in development since 1994, eight years before Chillida’s death.[In 2011 local authorities decided to go ahead with a project by Chillida inside Mount Tindayaon Fuerteventura despite concerns from environmentalists. As of 2013, local officials are continuing to seek €75 million in private funding
Dialogue with Heidegger
In the early 1960s Eduardo Chillida engaged into a dialog with the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. When the two men met, they discovered that from different angles, they were "working" with space in the same way. Heidegger wrote: "We would have to learn to recognize that things themselves are places and do not merely belong to a place," and that sculpture is thereby "...the embodiment of places." Against a traditional view of space as an empty container for discrete bodies, these writings understand the body as already beyond itself in a world of relations and conceive of space as a material medium of relational contact. Sculpture shows us how we belong to the world, a world in the midst of a technological process of uprooting and homelessness. Heidegger suggests how we can still find room to dwell therein.
Chillida has been quoted as saying: "My whole Work is a journey of discovery in Space. Space is the liveliest of all, the one that surrounds us. ...I do not believe so much in experience. I think it is conservative. I believe in perception, which is something else. It is riskier and more progressive. There is something that still wants to progress and grow. Also, this is what I think makes you perceive, and perceiving directly acts upon the present, but with one foot firmly planted in the future. Experience, on the other hand, does the contrary: you are in the present, but with one foot in the past. In other words, I prefer the position of perception. All of my work is the progeny of the question. I am a specialist in asking questions, some without answers."
Other philosophers who have written respectfully about Chillida and his works include Gaston Bachelard and Octavio Paz.
Honours and awards
In 2002, Vitoria, the capital of the Basque country, awarded its gold medal, the city's highest honor, posthumously to Chillida and the architect Luis Peña Ganchegui, for building a square that has come to symbolize Basque re-emergence following Spain's return to democracy. Other honours include:
· (1998) Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award International Sculpture Center
· (1991) Recipient of the Praemium Imperiale in Sculpture
· (1987) Recipient of the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Artes
· (1985) Recipient of the Wolf Prize in Sculpture
· (1983) Elected an honorary academician by the Royal Academy
Sculptures in Museum Chillida-Leku