When there is an attack against common sense, nature or public property, in Lanzarote people usually say «If César came to life again…» accompanied by a sigh or a «ha».
Text: M.J. Tabar
On April 24th 2019 César Manrique might have become 100 if his life hadn’t been unexpectedly cut by a road accident in Tahiche roundabout, where there is today a metal structure of spheres and bowls for the amusement of the always present «conejero» wind.
The story of this hyperactive and dreamer boy born in Arrecife in 1919 is linked to the colours of the volcano and the wet sand in Fámara, his preferred painting when he was a child.
His aesthetics ideal is based on two concepts that on an island like Lanzarote are irremediably linked making up a whole: art and nature.
César was an environment activist and a supporter of public beauty. He couldn’t stand the huge buildings which started to be constructed in the coast of Lanzarote «not considering style at all». He defined them as an example of fascist architecture that not even the very Mussolini would have allowed to build.
In the 80’s he realised that his fear of a «tourist outburst» was founded and wrote a manifest he bluntly titled «Lanzarote is dying». There he described a state of total «insensitivity» and «hopeless wholesaling» of an island with a singularly beautiful as well as fragile landscape.
In 1973 the Society Torrelavega of Arrecife, to whose board of directors César belonged for some years and where literacy lessons had been taught during the post-war period, organised the first ecological gatherings. César Manrique was there.
Fifteen years later, César took part in the outcry called by the cultural and ecology association, El Guincho, to stop the building of an estate on «Los Pocillos» beach. The demonstrators claimed the public property of the beach. The works promoter sued them for damages.
«We don’t have agriculture anymore; fishing doesn’t work, there isn’t any water and, the only thing that could work, with a good panning, tourism, is where the biggest shitloads are found». This is how César described the situation in Lanzarote in the 80’s, accusing public representatives of being responsible of the «developmental drift» of the island, which meant bread for today and hunger for tomorrow.
César was said to be equally attacked and mystified. His temper and international prestige prevailed and overshadowed a team of artists and technicians that loved the island as deeply as he did and who worked – contributing ideas, tools and extra hours – to make their collective dream come true, Centres of Art, Culture and Tourism that were built to be avant-garde, culture and dissemination of the universal heritage spaces.
On behalf of César opposed political speeches have been made, flags have been displayed and multi-coloured inaugural straps have been cut. The real estate market and political parties have taken over his legacy, most of the times reinterpreting him to their convenience.
When the citizens consider the public funds are being plundered or they are being treated as idiots the figure of César is mentioned like a mantra. Better or worse, Manrique wasn’t a man of protocols or strategies. Manrique asked for the stepping down of a politician publicly and face to face. Manrique established the boundaries of common sense and called irresponsible to anyone doing anything to deserve it.
Beyond unpublished architecture and his contribution to the development of Lanzarote, many remember that César who contravened his father’s wish to see him become an architect. That César who worked in team and did what he wanted to, moved by the passion and his key principle of not deceiving himself. He wrote down «Everything can be changed. It all depends on your excitement, on having the truth with you and on making a brave and honest decision».