Art for the People - A Celebration of Rural Spanish Life


We meet up with local artist Luis Zafrilla to talk to him about his Illustrated Landscape project.

A homage to rural Spain

On arriving at the tiny village of Valldemeca in the province of Cuenca it takes a double-take to two to notice the ironwork figures at work and play which appear on street corners and even in the surrounding fields. Life-sized and beautifully painted, they add to the already heady atmosphere of this deepest part of Spain, but there is something pleasantly reassuring about how they quietly get on with the age old traditions of the people who live here.

I meet up with the artist, Luis Zafrilla, at his studio in Catalonia to talk about the project, which he calls The Illustrated Landscape and which he is busy taking forward thanks to commissions from other towns and recently from the city of Barcelona.

The first thing that strikes you about Luis is how personal this project is to him, but also how unassuming he is about it. He grew up in Valldemeca and the figures in his work are of people he has known all his life, including his family.

I wondered where the idea came from and what was people’s initial reaction to it.

“It is a work that is tied to the earth, it celebrates rural life before globalisation and how people interacted with the earth.” he told me “It is a memory of this rural culture. It was something I had been thinking about, this age old bond we have with the earth. At first though it was a bit experimental and not everyone was all that sure about it.”

And now?

“Now it’s finished the reception has been very positive, I think nearly everyone likes it” He says with a smile.

He tells me a bit more about the ideas behind the work.

“The work is very figurative and anyone can relate to it. It harks back to a more classical idea of art; that of the painter doing his job and that interests me. Going back to the roots of painting.”

So how is this work different from other public art works?

“Really in three ways. The place supports the artwork, so it is not an external implant. It represents the culture of the place and it is also open so that the viewer can interact with it completely:” says Luis. “The idea is not that far removed from cave art. You make use of an existing support, which is the landscape and create something that has meaning for the people who live there. The role of this work is to connect the community to something more sublime. There is also the idea of the passing of time; you see a man with a scythe dressed in the style of a century ago and this same man had passed by where you are now.”

And what’s the place of the artist in all this?

“The artist isn’t involved in the sense of leaving his mark; it’s not an intellectual exercise and in this sense goes against the posturing of a lot of 20th century art where the signature is everything.”

A sculpture of bull-running in Spain

A work representing a town in Cuenca's local fiestas

I wonder if his work, that touches on common ground and shared history, and has anything to do with healing the wounds of Spain’s recent past.

“Yes perhaps.” he says “[The thinker and filmmaker] Jodorowsky says that the function of art is to cure. So possibly.”

Finally, how is he enjoying his commission for a piece celebrating Catalan Rumba, made famous by the Gitano community.

“It’s a very interesting job. The first draft I showed the community – they hated! They have a strong cultural identity and they don’t believe outsiders have a proper understanding of it.” He told me “But we’re fine now and the project is growing”

It’s easy to see why Luis Zafrilla’s charming work is gaining so many fans and we hope to see much more of it on our future travels around Spain.

Artist Luis Zafrilla

Luis Zafrilla with a draft of his homage to the Gitanos of the Catalan Rumba

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