ENGLISH • EUSKERA • ESPAÑOL
The naïf style of Spanish Basque artist, Miguel Marina, combines medieval Christian iconography with figurative expressionism to communicate his longing for the life and times of his youth. Largely self-taught as a painter, Marina belonged to no school of art or academic institution. He was in every sense of the word an independent thinker, an outsider who forged an original style that derived meaning from the circumstances of a life lived in exile.
Beginning in the early nineteen-sixties, he created colorful iconic figures of saints and angels that he began to blend with images and symbols of Basque life, such as berets, wine, bread, and fish. These started as the one-dimensional frontal paintings of the Stations of the Cross and developed into the multi-dimensional oneiric work of the nineteen-eighties, such as This is My Country and the series of The Picnic and Icon. Just as Marina’s later paintings juxtapose images surreally and disproportionately, the colors of his later work expand in complexity and subtlety to offer a richer palette than that of his earlier paintings. This extended color palette and tumbling, densely-packed kaleidoscope of images reflect the growing intensity of Marina’s longing for his homeland. At the risk of losing his childhood memories to old age, Marina vibrantly portrayed a recurring cycle of images reaffirming his Basque identity, and, in the words of Professor Anthony Geist, “inviting us to a secular communion with memory.”
In a diary entry shortly before he died, Marina wrote, “I remember Spain more and more each day and at the same time I want to forget her. I’ve lived over 40 years with a foot in each ocean, yet my memory always returns to the gentle, green mountains of the Basque Country…. Soon I’ll be 74 years old, and I’ll never again return to my beloved Basque country; for this reason my paintings, like a giant mirage, are memories of my beloved land.” The artist’s tragic awareness of his inability to return to a home forever changed by history and the passage of time is evident in the barren quality of some of his last landscapes. These contain few people, their grief underscored by the dark lines under their eyes. In the last paintings, Marina’s images almost seem to evaporate into thin air. In Sunset I and II, Ghosts in the Basque town, and Bigarrena II, all painted toward the end of Marina’s life, the pain of his loss is palpable.
Although an awareness of the suffering inflicted on mankind by others is often implicit in Marina’s work, this pain is more often overcome by images of saints and angels watching over tranquil towns. Yet, in 1966, the artist was so outraged by the accidental dropping of several hydrogen bombs by the United States near the small fishing village of Palomares in the Almería region of Spain that he created the Palomares series in response: a collection of paintings and drawings filled with scatological imagery, distorted bodies and poisoned tomato crops produced by the radioactive plutonium released by the explosions.
While the Palomares series represents a brief departure from the artist’s central themes of nostalgic peace and harmony, Marina’s work mainly transcends its historical origins to communicate a universal message of fraternity to people of all times, cultures, and religions.