Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Brush, a Pen and a Chisel

There is a remarkable mountain just by where I live. It looks artificial. It appears to have sculpted sides leading up to a flat summit. It’s known as ‘Old Mojácar’ or ‘Mojácar la Vieja’ and there are those that say it is the first version of the white cubist settlement that twenty thousand drinks later and half a kilometre to the south would briefly become known as Almería’s leading tourist city – until it was left behind by bad planning and corrupt politics in the mid eighties.
The table-topped mountain, located for some reason in ‘the Valley of the Pyramids’ (who thinks these things up?) is too steep to have ever been a village (‘I’ll just climb across the street and borrow a cup of sugar from Mrs Ughh’) and it would never have been defensible against pirates, corsairs and fifth-century al Qaida warriors and suicide bombers (which I can tell you in those days were pretty ineffectual). There’s not much point in living half way up a stand-alone mountain because, if the defences are breached, where ya gonna run to?
It must have had some other purpose: perhaps it was a religious centre of some sort, a kind of local version of Stonehenge. It certainly looks artificial; as if it was purposely built (they appear to have had rather better craftsmen in those days). If you climb to the top (crossing our land at three shillings each, children half price) you will find the flattened summit has a gigantic tank cut out of it, about five metres deep and appearing to look like an old water reservoir. But how would you fill it? There’s no spring that we know of, unless an earthquake closed it off at some point. There are signs of damage round the back of the mount apparently caused by a heavy tremor in fifteen hundred and something AD. The tank on the top of Old Mojácar is said to be Phoenician but the graffitis thoughtfully painted inside it come from the twenty-first century. You can sit on the edge of the top, with the open cargo hold in front of you, and imagine yourself on a stone barge, sailing the sky.
The mountain has been occasionally excavated, or perhaps ‘expoliated’ or even ‘sacked’, by amateur treasure hunters over the centuries. There are still lots of shards of old pottery and brick lying around among the terrace stones; together with a few of the surviving local tortoises (most were killed in the fire set in Cortijo Grande a few years back). But the large gold figurines which inevitably litter these kinds of places have all been collected and sold to the Yanks.
The process of a place-name comes from the ease of use and the imposition of the conqueror. The hill was named ‘Holy Mountain’ by the Romans, or ‘Mons Sacra’. The Moors changed the name to ‘Muxacra’ which the Christians were to pronounce later as ‘Mojácar’.
A local historian, Juan Grima, says that Mojácar has had several sites, but always in the sierras where, as he logically points out, one could always scarper in times of crisis, and where there was always a spring of fresh water available. The corsairs, you see, didn’t like to hang about for a siege so they would generally try somewhere more easy along the coast.

The cretin who painted his doodles in the mysterious old tank on the top of Old Mojácar is just one of many artists who have come here, attracted by the light, the views and the inspiration in the bottom of a bottle of cheap brandy. The first artist we know of, if not by name, was the one who put up the little stick figures with a rainbow – or whatever it is – originally called in Spanish ‘the little Mojácar man’ but much later known as ‘the Indalo’.

The Indalo

The Indalo, the name rather than the figure, was popularised by a group of artists in the nineteen fifties who settled Mojácar – or at least dropped by on weekends – called the ‘Indalianos’. The name comes from Indalecio, the first Spanish bishop, who happened to come from Urci (apparently now Benahadux) in Almería. Another suggestion, from the colourfully named ‘Flaming Turd’ (I found him on a forum called ‘Conan Completist’) suggests that during an early drinking session, while still casting about for a name for their school, one of the original group of artists noticed that a doll perched on the bar next to a bottle of really quite reasonably priced brandy, apparently distilled in a shed in Murcia, had a similar face to another member, whose name was Indalecio (in point of fact, a fairly common Almerian name). You had to have been there.
Me, I think that the name was lovingly chipped into the wall just under the cave painting in Velez Blanco. With a hammer and chisel bought from an ancestor of López.
After the Indalianos had disgustedly left Mojácar in about 1960 (undone by the march of progress in the shape of the town’s first – and for some time the only – street light), Mojácar’s artistic fortunes declined slightly until Paul Becket arrived a couple of years later, followed by Fritz Mooney, Mompó, Coronado, Roberto Puig, Juan Guirado, Brandybel, Alfredo Pirís, Félix Clemente, Luz Marquez, Peter Honey, Tony Hawker, Jean-Marc Faure, Marisol Stirling, Penny Colman and Isabelle Raths. And that’s just the ones from my collection.
Plus a whole lot more of unusually fine painters, sculptors and so on who have come to live in this area attracted by the light, the views and the aforementioned brandy, now sadly much increased in price.
With them came the wannabes. The flip-side of the coin. The exhibitionists. The graffitists. Usually as young and callow as they are free of any suggestion of talent, they despoil and ruin anything they can. In some towns they are fined, in others, ignored.
Mojácar meanwhile continues to welcome artists (especially rich ones, it goes without saying). There is a municipal gallery and, soon, an art museum to honour the town’s recent resurgence. We also have the Delfos Gallery (with an excellent selection of paintings) and the Fundación Valparaiso. Regular exhibitions are put on at the Hotel Puntazo on the playa. Other groups, exhibitions, galleries and so on exist hereabouts, such as the Gallarte group in Los Gallardos. In Arboleas, there’s the remarkable Pedro Gilabert museum. The inland marble town of Macael is home to sculptors and hosts an annual prize exhibition. In Cuevas, the castle houses a magnificent collection of twentieth century Spanish art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Antonio Manuel Campoy).
And no doubt outside, on the castle walls, someone has painted with a magic marker or a spray can the lovely phrase ‘Herbert woz here’.

Painting: Isabelle Raths Webpage.

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