Guest blogger, and prolific artist, Angie Del Riego, shares with us about what it is like, living in Spain as an artist. Her first-hand account of life as an artist in Spain, passionately and candidly reveals the ups and downs of the journey along the way. Make sure to also enjoy her downloadable poem at the bottom of this post.
A Beginning, A Return, or a Homecoming
In 2010 I was returning to my country, the Dominican Republic, after 30 years of living and raising three children in the US. I felt foreign in my own country and didn’t adjust to the hurdles of a fast growing culture with changes that didn’t favor my aspirations as an artist. It was then that I received an invitation from the Dominican Cultural Alliance to participate in an Art Exhibition at Palacio Oliver de Boteller in Tortosa, Catalunya. At this point my brother, sister and I had just received our Spanish passports and for the first time I found myself face to face with my dream of a lifetime: seeing my father’s beloved land, Spain. Never in my wildest imaginations did I think that I would come to Spain as an artist and the only thing in my mind was: “if my father could see me now”.
Needless to say that Spain for me always held a different meaning than for most immigrants. It was a part of my life from the time I could reason, shared by my father’s own lips; the country that not only he fought for in the Republic army of the Spanish Civil War, but that our ancestor, General Rafael Del Riego, declared the Spanish Constitution in the 1820’s. An action that later cost him his own life in betrayal and injustice by King Fernando VII.
When I came to Spain I felt I knew more about the history than many Spaniards did and what was in the books I had already read from my father’s own book of life. But I must say it is difficult to describe the feelings and emotions that rushed through my mind when I found myself in the Barrio Saints in Barcelona, face to face with “Carrer General Rafael Riego”. It was then that I had my first encounter with the history that up until then had been transmitted to me by my father’s own lips. And when I visited Asturias, his birth place, I found that his accounts were more accurate than the history books.
Past and Present Paths
So the exhibit took place successfully and my time to return home was only a week away. This is when I found information about my rights as a Spaniard for what they call “Emigrante Retornado” (Returning Immigrant), which is an employment incentive benefit in the form of monthly allowance that I applied for and was granted for 18 months. At this point my plans to go back home changed 360 degrees! I was staying and taking this opportunity that I had been searching for: a new land, for a new beginning and a chance to “create” my own new world.
But it wasn’t long before I experienced another culture shock as I faced that Barcelona had been fighting to NOT be a part of Spain and I found myself trapped in an ocean of political garbage, resentful immigrants, economic crisis and hopeless future. It was difficult, if not impossible to get inspired to paint with such confusion. So I decided to use this opportunity to research about my father’s path in the war and following a letter he had written before his death, I set out to trace the places and events he mentioned until I came to find the Centro de la Memoria Historica Espanola (Center for the Historic Spanish Memory).
I was able to get all the information via internet of my father’s footsteps, not only through the Spanish Civil War, but also from the University of Salamanca, where he graduated from law school. It is difficult to describe what I felt when I got all these documents – letters and entire files from the supreme court where my father had been accused of the crimes of masonry (being a mason), a communist, republic, socialist etc., all of which were considered a treason to the Francoism government at that time.
Being An Artist in Barcelona
I found a place to rent a room, sharing an apartment with a couple from Brasil and a French man; all of us trying to find a way of life in bubbling, busy Barcelona. I moved in with my four paintings and was very lucky to find a friend from the Dominican Republic. She gave me an easel and some money to buy a canvas and paints to do a portrait of Doña Dede, the surviving sister of the brave Mirabals sisters. This became for me an ongoing project about the ‘International Day of No Violence Against Women‘ that I tried to launch with the Dominican Consulate, but found little support and ended back on a shelf.
As I continued stumbling among the political bulls*#!, unsatisfied Catalonians that didn’t want to be Spaniards, pretentious and jealous immigrants from my own Dominican Republic, I was able to sell my first painting to my attorney in Barcelona. While I continued doing the portrait of Doña Dede, I sold another art piece in the Dominican Republic to Leandro Guzman, the surviving widower of one of the Mirabal sisters. This was all possible online and I found that Spain was very up-to-date with online accessibility and that practically everything was set up on the internet. In fact, all the information I found about my father in the Spanish Civil War was done through internet and later on sent to me by mail.
Deeper into Spain, Deeper into Love
So my first two years in Spain were in Barcelona, where I felt confused, lost and despaired. And when I thought I was ready to return home (wherever that was), I met who is today my partner Juan Antonio, who invited me to come visit him in Extremadura, a place I never heard of! His words when he knew I was coming were: “there’s nothing here, but I think that you can be tranquila (still)”. It was when I came here that I felt I found the España that my father talked about; the “true Spain”, old or better said: ancient, rough, rural, earthy, tough, right down to basics of living, extreme as the name means. And for the first time, guess what… I slept, deep, very deep, in a small, dark room, of his Grandmother’s old house with not a sound disturbing my peace.
It was when I came here that I felt I found the España that my father talked about; the “true Spain”…
Inspiration didn’t start too soon and there were times when I felt I was going backwards and that my life had shifted 360 degrees to the bare extreme of the extreme. For two years we lived in the small house of Juan Antonio’s grandmother, as he remodeled his own house (100 years old or more) just a few doors down the street. I saw him work so hard, all by himself, after his regular work, every day until after the sun went down. When I thought he would get tired and be done, then he decided to turn the “doblao” (old fashioned attic) into a studio so that I could paint there in my own artist studio! I’ve never actually seen a person build a house with his two bare hands, all by himself. Until then.
And there I had it, in front of my own eyes, without words, promises or over rated lines, he showed himself for what he really was: a man in every sense of the word. And you guessed it: inspiration came and I started to paint in the “doblao” before he had even finished the house. We finally got moved in!
At the same time that I painted I also participated in the different convocatorias (juried art shows) offered by the City Halls and art and cultural associations in Extremadura and presented my project of women empowerment to the Instituto de la Mujer de Extremadura. I also registered in most of the websites offering grants through contests online and found that Spain continues to be up to date and active in the cybernetic world.
Being an artist in Spain is more than what I expected.
My goal coming to Spain as an artist was to spread my art around Europe and beyond. Perhaps it hasn’t been a bed of roses, but Spain has proven to be strategically the best home-base spot to settle and create avenues that can reach out to the world right from my laptop while I continue to produce new work. Spain has simply given me the opportunity to be a full time artist, while living modestly without all the amenities that society says we “need” in order to be comfortable, but that actually end up crippling us from being all that we can be. In Spain I’ve been able to have health benefits that cover my basic health needs, all while I paint in my home studio!
…living modestly without all the amenities that society says we “need” in order to be comfortable, but that actually end up crippling us from being all that we can be.
They say that in order for a person to be a full time artist he or she needs three basic things: Time, space and money. With the last one being the least, I can say that I have had plenty of the first one. And as far as the second, I’ve had more than enough, vast, earthy, sustainable space sitting under one single olive tree out of the thousands that my eye could see, to fill me up with inspiration from the most perfect source: nature. It sparks my creativity with endless possibilities in the form of my latest ongoing series “The Olive Women”. The exciting part is that I have my partner’s own olive grove full of olive trees, as material for more inspiration and endless possibilities. My series “The Olive Women” was recently selected to exhibit at the Florence Biennale 2017, in Florence, Italy this October.
I feel that unless I am willing to take the time to sit under one olive tree and listen to the voice of nature, the process of inspiration won’t flow to spark creativity through imagination. It takes the willingness to step away from all the hustle and bustle of the world that distract the mind, the perseverance and patience to develop spontaneity, the courage to believe in ourselves and be grateful to nature to really unleash imagination and create something meaningful. The result of all that and the ability to appreciate these things becomes, as the theme of the Florence Biennale is dedicated to, eArth: Creativity & Sustainability. It is all right at our fingertips, if we just take the time to listen to nature, the possibilities to create are…more than endless.
When I came to Spain I wrote a poem that summarizes how I felt, and I want to share it with you here: