Living in Spain as an Artist

by Last updated Mar 7, 2023 | Published on Feb 24, 2017Extremadura, Living in Spain Series, Spain

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 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 nationality 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”.

Coming Face to Face with Spain’s History

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 where 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 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

The exhibit at the Palacio Oliver de Boteller 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. I applied for this and it was granted to me for 18 months.

At this point my plans to go back home changed 360 degrees! I decided to stay and take 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. 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. 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. There were letters and entire files from the supreme court where my father had been accused of the crimes of Freemasonry, being a communist, republican, socialist etc., all of which were considered by the Franco government at that time to be treason.

Being an Artist in Barcelona

Above ImageExhibiting in Milan, in 2015.

In Barcelona, I found a place to rent a room, sharing an apartment with a couple from Brazil and a French man. All of us were 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 Mirabal sisters. This became for me an ongoing project about the International Day of No Violence Against Women. I have since had art exhibitions of this project in collaboration with the Dominican Consulate. 

As I continued stumbling among the political bulls*#!, unsatisfied Catalonians that didn’t want to be Spaniards, and 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 Love, Deeper into Spain

So my first two years in Spain were in Barcelona, where I felt confused, lost and in despair. When I thought I was ready to return home (wherever that was), I met who is today my partner Juan Antonio. He invited me to come visit him in Extremadura, a place I had 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 to Extremadura that I felt I found the España that my father talked about; the “true Spain”. It  is old, or better said, ancient, rough, rural, earthy, right down to the 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”…

Living in Extremadura as an Artist in 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. For two years we lived in the small house of Juan Antonio’s grandmother, as he remodeled his own house just a few doors down the street. It was 100 or more years old.

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 an art studio so that I could paint there in my own space! 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. I presented my project of women empowerment to the Instituto de la Mujer de Extremadura and I also registered in most of the websites offering grants through contests online. Overall, I found that Spain continued to be up to date and active in the online world.

Then in 2015, I was selected by the United Nations Arts for a Better Future Committee. I was one of the preliminary 60 artists out of 200 from 66 countries of the world for their digital installation at the Milan Expo 2015.

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. Many times, they 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. As far as the second thing, 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 selected to exhibit at the Florence Biennale 2017, in Florence, Italy.

Inspiration for Living in Spain as an Artist

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 distracts the mind. It requires the perseverance and patience to develop spontaneity, the courage to believe in ourselves and to 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 right at our fingertips. If we just take the time to listen to nature, the possibilities to create are endless.

Learn More About the 'Olive Women' Series

and other works and projects of Artist Angie Del Riego.

When I came to Spain I wrote a poem that summarizes how I felt, and I want to share it with you here:

Pin It!

living in Spain as an artist - Pinterest Pin
Angie Del Riego

Angie Del Riego

Guest Writer, Artist, Singer

Angie Del Riego is a multi-disciplinary artist, specializing in mixed-medium painting and accompanying herself as a singer and Spanish Guitar player. When she’s not painting in her ‘Studio Doblao’, you can find her performing the classic Spanish Boleros (old-world Spanish love songs) or out on a run through the countryside with her partner, Juan Antonio. Click here to enjoy her art and learn more about her.


  1. Lynnette
  2. Altagracia Pritting

    Angie I really admire you. You are a very talented girl. Playing the guitar and painting. Congratulations

    • Amalia and Eric

      Hi Altagracia! Thank you so much for your kind message and for being on our blog. We’re so glad that you’ve enjoyed this article by artist Angie del Riego and we’ll make sure to let her know about your message.

      We hope you continue to enjoy the rest of our blog. Thank you!

  3. Yaeli

    Hi ! I love your story, and I am thinking of moving spain myself as a musician ! I was wondering about how the music scene is there ? I also read somewhere that being self-employed there is really hard. Is that true ? How did you make it through ?

    Thanks for sharing !

    • Amalia and Eric

      Hello Yaeli. Thank you so much for enjoying our blog. That’s wonderful that you are considering moving to Spain. The music scene here varies depending on where you are in Spain, for example there will be more opportunities in cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, and Seville. If you prefer a smaller town or rural area (and if you’re wiling to drive a lot for gigs), the coastal areas along the Mediterranean can provide a lot of opportunities for musicians as well since tourism is big along the coast and live music is popular year-round in the more known areas. It is like that in our area of Denia on the Costa Blanca.

      Being self employed here is more costly than in the US. It is called being ‘autonomo’ and when you first sign up for it, they give you a discounted rate of 50€/month for the first 6 months. Then it goes up to 80€/month the following 6 months and raises every 6 months from there until you are paying the max at the end of 2 years, which right I think is just over 300€/month. In addition to that are accountant fees if you do not want to do the quarterly filing and paying of taxes by yourself. And most business accounts here cost each month. So as you can see the fees really stack up quick and that is what makes it challenging, especially since it is not based on how much you’re making or what industry you’re in.

      I hope that helps but let me know of any other questions and we hope you continue to enjoy our blog. Thank you and best of everything to you!

  4. Sabine

    Beautifully told. Thank you! Hoping to make Spain my new home.

    • Amalia and Eric

      Hi Sabine. You’re very welcome. And thank you as well. We’re so glad that you enjoyed our post about being an artist in Spain and we hope you continue to enjoy our blog. Best wishes to you on your journey to making Spain your new home. Let us know of any questions you have that we may be able to help with.

  5. anouk de groot

    Thank you for this motivating article
    Soy una artista tambien, y yo vivo in Galicia.
    I love it here, the earthyness and the way of the people.
    To find a simpler path to a beautiful life
    Gracias a ti y gracias a España

    • Amalia and Eric

      Ooh, Galicia! We have heard so many great things about that part of the country. It’s a place we really want to visit soon. Thank you Anouk for reading our post. We’re so glad that you enjoyed it and let us know. It is wonderful to connect with people who you can relate to, especially when traveling and living abroad. Please stay in touch and we hope to see you here on our site often. ¡Muchas gracias y abrazos!

    • elena kovács

      Amazing journey!😍 I am planning to move with my family in Spain and I really hope I can have a chance with my art ….you really gave me hope!🤗 Thank you for sharing your life story! Wish you all the best!💌

      • Amalia and Eric

        That’s wonderful that you’re moving to Spain. We also hope that you continue with your art here. It’s definitely possible! And thanks for reading and enjoying this story. We’ll let the artist/guest blogger know as well and if you ever want to be in touch with her, just let us know here and we’ll put you in contact. Have a great move and we hope you continue enjoying our stories.


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