In my latest novel, Legacy, the love story begins when the hero and heroine cross paths in Barcelona. I very much enjoyed setting the scene in this colourful, lively city, especially because it is chock-full of works by one of my favourite architects, Antoni Gaudí.
Gaudí was a Spanish architect who lived from 1852 to 1926, and his distinctive Modernist style in architecture has been hugely influential for so many people. Here are six things that I find fascinating and inspiring about Gaudí and his work:
1. His greatest passion, besides architecture and religion (see below), was nature – mountains and caves especially. Many of his works are imbued with this love and admiration of nature, none more so than his magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia; see how the roof above the nave, shown here, looks like overarching tree branches.
2. He envisioned and planned every single tiny detail of his many big works, not on paper, but through creating intricate scale models.
3. He was absolutely dedicated to his Catholic faith, and his works are so beautiful and reverent that some have named him ‘God’s architect’ and called from him to be sainted by the Pope.
4. He was a serious man, and yet not without a playful side. His buildings are often quirky, colourful and eye-catching. Here’s one of the most iconic Gaudí symbols, the salamander sculpture in Park Güell.
5. He fused all sorts of crafts into his architecture, from ceramics to stained glass. The Casa Batlló is a wonderful example; Gaudí pioneered the mosaic work on the exterior, made from broken ceramic tiles, which is called trencadís.
6. He was not afraid to dream big. His vision for the Sagrada Familia, a huge church in Barcelona, was so vast that builders are still constructing the church based on his plans. The finish date, it is hoped, will be the one-hundred-year anniversary of Gaudí’s death.
Readers of my Andalucían Nights series will spot an important homage to Gaudí’s style. In Legacy, my heroine Luna comes to live in Cadiz in a house that was inspired by a major Andalucían avant-garde architect and Surrealist artist, Eduardo Rafael Ruiz de Salazar. The house, which is right on the beach, is called La Gaviota, meaning The Seagull, and it is designed to look like a bird:
It was a small, two-storey, unusual-looking building with whitewashed walls, interspersed with floor-to-ceiling sliding windows, a domed roof and three terraces. The one at ground level led down to the beach, while the two on the upper floor jutted out on the north-east and south-east sides of the house, like wings of a giant bird about to take flight.
Over the years, La Gaviota has been a haven for artists and writers, who find inspiration in the arresting architecture and the beautiful sea views. Luna, too, finds this home to be a haven, a place where she can free her mind and explore her past and future – a place where her dreams can take flight.
When I envision La Gaviota, there is a good deal of Gaudí in the design. Especially, my mind takes me back to a hot summer’s afternoon when I visited Park Güell on Carmel Hill in Barcelona, which is all Gaudí’s design. The colours, the lines, the creativity, the boldness, the beauty – it is all so wonderfully evocative; like something out of a romance novel, n’est-ce pas?
For me, Gaudí’s work is the perfect exemplification of Goethe’s wisdom:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Persephone has returned from the underworld, heralding the return of spring: daffodils and snowdrops, blue skies and warming sunshine, longer days and milder nights – spring has sprung!
There is such a feeling of hope in the air, of the promise of rebirth and growth and discovery. As Emily Dickinson wrote, ‘A light exists in spring.’
A light exists in spring… this line has often been on my mind, for the heroine of my latest novel, Legacy, is named Luz (Spanish for light) and her story begins in the spring.
The preceding novels in the Andalusian Nights series are set in the summer: hot and sultry. But for Legacy I wanted to lead in to that Spanish heat. Spring was the perfect season for the opening of the book because of its symbolism. Luz is embarking on a new journey of discovery, learning about the beautiful country and its passionate people, and along the way she herself blossoms into a sensual woman.
Blossom: there is another inspiration for the book. Are you familiar with Vincent Van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms paintings? Here is Almond Blossom, 1890.
When he arrived in Arles in March 1888, Van Gogh was so inspired by the fruit trees in the orchards that he painted them every single day for a fortnight and felt somewhat bereft when they were finished flowering. Two years later he painted this artwork, Almond Blossom, as a celebration of new life: it was for his new baby nephew.
I love the serenity of this artwork, the dreamy hue of the sky, the fact the onlooker is placed in the position of gazing heavenward, as if lying in soft grass under the tree, daydreaming. Most of all I love the blossom: fresh, virginal – and delicate.
There is something so delicate about blossom, and precious too, due to its ephemeral nature. Rather like first love, don’t you think? In Legacy, ‘blossom’ is a word I associate with Luz’s developing sensuality; her need for Ruy is blossoming. But that need is delicate and fragile, and it must be carefully nurtured if it is not to be fleeting like the blossom on the trees in spring – or indeed like spring itself, which passes, as Emily Dickinson writes, and leaves us with ‘a quality of loss’.
In a place as beautiful as Cadiz, Andalusia, however, there need be no loss when the spring has passed. There, in the ‘city of light’, the summer is long and heady – all the light that exists in spring can exist in summer too for Luz… if she only opens her heart to it.
Would you like to read Legacy? I have a limited number of books available for reviewers, so do let me know if you’d like to read the book in exchange for posting an honest review on Amazon.
The following description is from my Spanish-set novel Indiscretion:
At La Linea, just outside Gibraltar, where she had arrived by passenger ship, she had found a train heading north, up the coast to Puerto de Santa Maria, via Cadiz. Coming face to face with the trenmixto, Alexandra had momentarily been tempted to switch to the more civilised and comfortable rápido. The carriages of the passenger and freight train had been stuffed to bursting with baskets of clucking hens, men whistling and shouting to each other, women with luggage and paraphernalia piled high against the windows, and even the odd goat or two; but after taking a deep breath, she struggled with her cases into the hot and stuffy compartment and gamely squeezed herself into an empty seat next to an elderly woman.
The train had high-backed wooden benches, the seating arranged in cubicles on either side of a gangway. Some of the windows were broken, and people climbed through them to grab a seat. A chattering, shouting medley of voices had filled the carriage – there was none of the usual reserved and dignified behaviour Alexandra had read about in the books about the Spanish that she’d picked up at her local library. The strange smells of food, sweat and livestock permeated the atmosphere.
Now, looking around at her fellow travellers, Alexandra made a mental note of their various characteristics, so that she might, if she wished, use them in her writing. Some were ugly as sin, with screwed-up wrinkled faces, and flabby mouths hanging open, but there were so many alert and twinkling eyes , animated by one lively expression after another. Knotted, pudgy or skinny hands gesticulated energetically with each conversation. Accompanying their mothers or grandmothers were a few young boys and girls with bright, dark eyes, red lips and olive skins that in some cases had been washed and others not. Alexandra had seen such familiar scenes and characters in dozens of Spanish paintings, and now it seemed these Goyaesque figures had come to life in front of her.
‘Goyaesque.’ Are you familiar with the work of Francisco Goya?
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes(1746–1828) is one of my favourite artists, and one of the most important in Spanish art history. During his career, which spanned some fifty years, he created prolifically: paintings, etchings, frescos.
Known as a romantic artist, Goya straddled the boundary between old and new: he is seen by many as the last Old Master and the first modern artist. What is most interesting about Goya’s art, as I touch upon in Indiscretion, is that it chronicled a time in history in great detail. But it also embodied sentiment. His early works are fairly joyful – for example, he painted cartoons for tapestries to hang in the royal palace. But over time Goya became, by way of his art, a social and political commentator, as in his damming depiction of the atrocities of war in a series of eighty-five prints called The Disasters of War.
Unlike many great artists, Goya’s art was highly regarded during his lifetime. In 1786, aged forty, he was appointed a court painter to the Spanish crown, and he painted many portraits of prominent Spaniards in the aristocracy. By 1799 he had been given the highest ranking title for a Spanish court painter, Primer Pintor de Càmara, and he was commissioned to paint Charles IV of Spain and His Family.
Of all Goya’s works, my favourites are La Maja Vestida(The Clothed Maja) and La Maja Desnuda(The Nude Maja):
La Maja Desnudawas the earlier work (1797–1800). Art historians believe it was commissioned by Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, a womaniser who was very appreciative of nude paintings. Supposedly, La Maja Vestidawas also painted for de Godoy, and it was hung in his home on top of La Maja Desnuda in such a way that the two paintings could be swapped through a pulley system.
Why would de Godoy want to swap the works? Presumably for his own amusement, but also to conceal the nude version should it offend a visitor – for La Maja Desnuda was a controversial work in its day. The alluring gaze of the model combined with the glimpse of her private area was most upsetting to the Church authorities – and most exciting to everyone else!
But upsetting ecclesiastical authority figures in the early 1800s was unwise, as Goya found when he was pulled before the Spanish Inquisition to explain his ‘moral depravity’ in painting the nude. After miserable proceedings, he was cleared of the charge on the grounds that he had emulated the Velázquez paintingVenus which Philip IV had loved. Certainly, Goya was very influenced by Diego Velázquez; he said, ‘I have had three masters, Nature, Velasquez, and Rembrandt.’
Goya’s legacy in the art world has been immensely powerful. But he is also memorialised in Spanish culture. Back to Indiscretion:
‘Ronda is the city of outlaws and bullfighters. And if you want to see a bullfight, of course Ronda is the place to be.’ Ramón nudged Alexandra, offering her a flask of water. ‘Needless to say, the corrida is a very important part of Spanish culture. If you’re here in September, you could see the Feria Goyesca. That would be a real Spanish spectacle for your book, mi permita. Do you know Goya’s paintings?’
She sipped some water and returned the bottle. ‘Some. A few of his portraits in the National Gallery in London.’
‘You won’t have seen his bullfight paintings then. Very realistic, even today. And at the Feria Goyesca, everyone dresses in traditional eighteenth- and nineteenth-century costumes; some as toreros, others spectators. There are parades, eating, drinking, dancing. It’s all very colourful. I think it would appeal to the romantic in you, even if you didn’t care to see the bullfight.’
The Ronda Feria Goyesca is dedicated to three people of importance: the 18th-century bullfighter Pedro Romero, the 20th-century bullfighter Antoñio Ordóñez, and Francisco de la Goya. Why connect the three? Pedro Romero was the grandson of Francisco, head of the Romeros of Ronda and the father of modern bullfighting, and he was a very accomplished bullfighter (some say he killed six thousand bulls!). Goya was keenly interested in all aspects of Spanish culture, but the emerging bullfighting really captured his imagination. He painted Pedro Romero’s portrait, and many other scenes of corridas. As for Ordóñez, in the 1950s he decided to pay homage to Romero and Goya with a corrida to capture both the electrifying bullfighting of Romero and the colourful spectacles depicted by Goya. The result is the Ronda Feria Goyesca – well worth attending if you are in Andalucia in the first week of September.
Pablo Picasso is generally regarded as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. A painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, poet and playwright, he was instrumental in the development of various new artistic styles and the Cubist movement. He was an extremely prolific artist (he produces 1,885 paintings alone), and – unusually for many great artists – was very successful during his lifetime, amassing a fortune for his creative works.
His beginnings were not entirely humble;he was born into a middle class family in 1881 in Málaga, Andalucía (setting for Masquerade), the son of a painter and professor of art, and was baptised Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso (no wonder he shortened the name!). His mother would later say that Picasso’s first word was the Spanish for pencil. His passion for art emerged early in life, so much so that by the age of seven his father was tutoring him, having him study the masters; and by thirteen his father felt his son’s skill has surpassed his own. At fourteen, Picasso painted Portrait of Aunt Pepa, which prominent art critic Juan-Eduardo Cirlot dubbed ‘one of the greatest in the whole history of Spanish painting’.
After a brief stint at art school, Picasso forged his own path in the art world. He was a penniless artist in Paris and Madrid, burning his works to heat his small accommodations. During the 1900s, he passed through his Blue Period, in which paintings were sombre and in blue tones, and then the Rose Period (whose circus folk depictions are wonderful). Art historians believe the warming from blue to rose was down to Picasso finding love with fellow artist Fernande Olivier.
In the latter part of the 1900s, Picasso made some important connections, most notably with the American modernist writer Gertrude Stein, who collected art, and with Henri Matisse, who would be his friend and sometime rival. In 1907 his works went on display in a Parisian gallery owned by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, one of the most influential French art dealers of the century.
It is Picasso’s Analytic Cubist period for which he is more often remembered. He developed the style with Georges Braque. The artists analysed objects, breaking them down into geometric parts and reassembling them, allowing many viewpoints. Colour was not important – most of the works are monochromatic; what was important was shape. Picasso’s Cubism revolutionised art in the early twentieth century. It inspired Synthetic Cubism (collage), and informed the development of Orphism, Abstract art, Purism, Futurism, Suprematism, Dada and Constructivism.
‘Picasso changed his companions as often as he changed painting styles’ is an aspersion cast by critics. Certainly, he was a man given to strong passion, who fell in and out of love. During the war years he left Olivier, fell for a woman who died, had another affair and then married Olga Khokhlova, a ballerina. Together, they lived the high life and had a son, but Picasso soon strayed from the marriage and his seventeen-year-old mistress bore him a daughter. Over his entire life he married twice and had four children by three woman, plus kept a host of mistresses, all of whom were muses for his art.
In the 1930s, Picasso became affiliated with the Surrealist movement. His most famous work was created during this decade: entitled Guernica, it was a reaction to the German bombing of the town during the Spanish civil war. The horror depicted is deeply powerful; I recall seeing the work in a gallery and being quite distressed at the images conveyed. Which was the artist’s point: ‘The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them,’ he said. He was unafraid of the work’s meaning; famously, when he was living in Paris during the Second World War, a Gestapo agent searched his apartment and, pointing to the painting, demanded, ‘Did you do that?’ Picasso’s reply: ‘No, you did.’
Pablo Picasso died in 1973 in Mougins, France (his prolonged absence from Spain having kept him safe from Franco’s disapproval of his opposing political ideology). He had no will, and so the French state claimed death duties in the form of many works from Picasso’s private collection (his own and others’). These became the basis for the Musée Picasso. But Picasso was a Spanish artist by birth, and his homeland later reclaimed him: in 1963 Museu Picasso was opened in Barcelona, and in 2003 the Museo Picasso Málaga followed. (I have been to all the Picasso museums; they are well worth visiting if you get the chance.)
Since his death, Picasso’s work has been a legacy for all new artists, and has become highly sought after by collectors and galleries. In May of this year Women of Algiers sold at auction for 179.3 million dollars – the most ever paid for a painting.
Like many, I have found Picasso’s words as inspirational and important as his art. Few remember him as a poet, but he was: he wrote more than 300 poems. As a collector of quotations, I love many of his axioms. I will leave you with some of my absolute favourites, which inspire me every day as I write:
- Everything you can imagine is real.
- Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
- Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.
- I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.
- It takes a long time to become young.
- Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.
- Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.
- Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.
Visitors to Covent Garden, London, in the next month can stand right at the heart of art. French artist Charles Petillon has filled the South Hall with 100,000 balloons, in a work named ‘Heartbeat’, as reported in the Daily Mail:
Petillon, a visual artist, has until now only exhibited photographs of his ‘Invasion’ series of works, all of which involve balloons, as showcased on his website at http://www.charlespetillon.com/.
He has said of his art that he is creating metaphors, and his goal is ‘to change the way in which we see the things we live alongside each day without really noticing them’. With ‘Heartbeat’ he is representing the Covent Garden market as the beating heart of the area. He explained:
Each balloon has its own dimensions and yet is part of a giant but fragile composition that creates a floating cloud above the energy of the market below. This fragility is represented by contrasting materials and also the whiteness of the balloons that move and pulse appearing as alive and vibrant as the area itself.
I was struck by three facets of this art: its striking visual impact; its romanticism; and – most of all – its surrealism.
Surrealism is at the very crux of my new book, Masquerade. First there is the obvious and concrete: the heroine, Luz, has been commissioned to write a biography of a famous Spanish surrealist artist, and so she must immerse herself in that world of art, exploring fantastical buildings and paintings, and trying to put herself in the mind-set of her creator.
But beyond the obvious connection to Surrealism, Masquerade is, at heart, an embodiment of the very spirit of the movement: exploring the boundary between illusion and reality, and breaking it down.
It was André Breton who fathered Surrealism in 1924 when he published his Manifesto of Surrealism. Inspired by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unconscious, he advocated a new movement that would ‘resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality’. ‘The imaginary is what tends to become real,’ he said.
The Surrealists often used irrational, illogical imagery to explore and express the subconscious. In art, members of the movement included Max Ernst, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. I wrote about Dalí last week; his take on Surrealism particularly influenced my writing in Masquerade. ‘Surrealism is destructive,’ he said, ‘but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.’
A perfect example is The Treachery of Images, a painting by René Magritte:
The picture is of a pipe, but the picture itself is not a pipe – it is an image of a pipe. Hence below Magritte painted, ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ – ‘This is not a pipe’. Magritte said of the work: ‘It’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!’
An important element of many Surrealism artworks is juxtaposition – jarring contrast. This carries forth in Masquerade, in which Luz is torn between two men who have similar appearances but very different backgrounds, motivations and miens. The contrast is frequently disturbing to her, dizzying, just as the surveyor of any Surrealist work feels.
Another key facet of Surrealism is sexuality. As Luz asserts in the book, ‘Repressed sexual desire was the obsession of all the Surrealists in some form or other.’ Masquerade is set in 1976, the year after the dictator Franco died, and Spain is on the cusp of massive social change. Until now, for example, women had been expected to adhere to a strong moral code that set high standards for their sexual conduct, and prohibited divorce and contraception. Now, Luz’s generation will be released from the cage, but years of repression are hard to shake off. Still, the Surrealist preoccupation with simmering, concealed sexuality is apparent.
Ultimately, a single word echoes in my mind – and in my book – in relation to Surrealism: liberation. The movement was fundamentally about liberating the mind, through exposure of psychological truth. And that exposure is what drives the plot of Masquerade, all the way through to its explosive climax.