Luis Zafrilla, An Artist Celebrating Rural Spanish Life


We meet artist Luis Zafrilla

A homage to rural Spain

On arriving at the tiny village of Valldemeca in the province of Cuenca, you do a double-take when you notice the ironwork figures which appear on street corners and even in the surrounding fields. Life-sized and beautifully painted, they add to the already special atmosphere of this out-of-the-way part of Spain but there is something pleasantly reassuring about how they seem to be quietly getting on with the age-old traditions of the people who live here.

I met 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 more recently from the city of Barcelona.

The first thing that strikes you about Luis is how personal this project is to him and, also how modest he is about it.

He grew up in the tiny village of Valldemeca in Cuenca and the figures you can see in his work are of people he has known all his life there, including some members of his family.
I asked him where the idea for the Illustrated landscape project came from and how the local people who are represented in it, reacted to it.

“It is a work that is tied to the earth, it celebrates rural life before the onset of globalisation and how people interacted with the earth then.” “It is also 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, the project was a bit experimental, and not everyone was 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 just doing his job, and that interests me. Going back to the roots of painting.”

So how is this work different from other public artworks?

“Really, in three ways. The place supports the artwork, so it is not something that feels like it has been implanted externally. The artworks represent the culture of the place, and they are also open so that the viewer can interact with them completely.”

“The idea is not that far removed from cave art. You make use of an existing support, which in this case is the landscape and you 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.”

Street art installation of bull-running in Spain

Bull Running, by Luis Zafrilla

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

“Yes perhaps.” he says “[The 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, the musical style made famous by the Gitano community.

“It’s a fascinting job. When I showed the first draft to the Gitano community, they hated it! They have a strong cultural identity and don’t believe outsiders like me have a proper understanding of it.” He told me “But we get along fine now and the project is coming along”

Luis Zafrilla’s Illustrated Landscape project can be seen in villages in Cuenca and Catalonia. The artwork celebrating the Gypsy community of Catalonia is in the Calle de la Cera in Barcelona.

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