Chillida, the great architect of the void

Eduardo Chillida said that without emptiness there is nothing and, just as music would not exist without silence, sculpture would not survive without space either. And this was demonstrated in his extensive work, in which he always sought the union between art, poetry and nature through the dialogue of matter and its absence, leading him to enter the most unknown world of the creation.

But the sculptor from San Sebastian not only evidenced an immense knowledge of form, but also demonstrated a deep spirituality and infinite curiosity, the same that inspired all his work. Now, 20 years after his disappearance, the world has not forgotten the artist thanks to a legacy that remains more alive than ever at the Chillida Leku Museum in Hernani (Guipúzcoa), founded during his lifetime by the author himself.

Eduardo Chillida was born in San Sebastián on January 10, 1924, and his childhood by the sea in the bay marked his relationship with landscape and space. From a very young age he went to see how the waves broke to the place where years later he placed his iconic wind comb (1976) as a tribute to his land.

Chillida, together with one of his pieces, in an exhibition at the Reina Sofía. – Photo: EFE

After a frustrated career as a footballer, first, and an architect, later, the Basque began to develop his work in 1947, when he entered the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid to draw. From there, and thanks to a scholarship, he moved to Paris to make his first figurative sculptures in plaster, influenced by archaic Greece. With them he received early recognition in 1949 exhibiting his creations at the Salon de Mayo in Paris. A year later, he exhibited for the first time in a group show at Galeria Maeght dedicated to emerging artists.

Chillida suffered an artistic crisis in 1951, the year in which he decided to leave the French capital to settle again in the Basque Country, where he rediscovered his roots and discovered iron, the great protagonist of his work, but he also entrusted himself to a work marked by a more personal and reflective language.

Despite establishing his residence in the land of his birth, he frequently traveled to Paris and established a great bond with Aimé Maeght and his gallery, which he shared with other young authors such as Chagall, Miró, Calder or Giacometti.

'Praise the horizon' is one of Gijón's hallmarks. ‘Praise the horizon’ is one of Gijón’s hallmarks. – Photo: EFE

His works destined for public space, more than 40, are spread all over the world, and his pieces were shown in more than 500 individual exhibitions, since the first retrospective organized by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in 1966. Since then, it was a non stop. Already in 1980 he exhibited consecutively at the Guggenheim in New York, the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid and, for the first time, in the Basque Country, at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, while the Reina Sofía hosted his largest exhibition in 1998 .

With the new millennium inaugurated, his retrospectives took place all over the planet: at the Jeu de Paume in Paris (2001), at the Saint Petersburg Museum (2003), at the Mie Prefectural Art Museum in the Japanese city of Tsu (2007) or at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (2018), making him one of the most recognized and important sculptors of the decade.

But if there was a place where Utopia from San Sebastian saw the light -the one in which he dreamed of establishing an encounter between the empty and the full, nature and its works, the human being and reflection-, that was the museum that he himself created in 2000 in Hernani, the Chillida Leku, essential to keep his legacy alive, a task entrusted to his children and for which generational succession is guaranteed.

View of one of the iron sculptures he forged.View of one of the iron sculptures he forged. – Photo: EFE

“You inherit some works but at the same time you inherit a responsibility that leads you to think about what they would have liked us to do,” says Luis Chillida, the artist’s son, who speaks in the plural because neither the life nor the career of his father would understand each other without his mother, Pilar Belzunce, whom he married in 1950 and with whom he had eight children.

That is the maxim by which they have been guided all this time in which Chillida Leku was even closed for eight years as it was unfeasible to carry it forward without external help. But its reopening in 2018 by the prestigious Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth opened “a window to something different”. “What we had was very close to the work, but we had to develop a museum project and that was something that was great for us,” admits Luis, who affirms that his father would be “very happy” to know that the museum not only continues guarding and caring for the legacy he created for so many years, but his work “continues to arouse the interest of different generations”.

In his opinion, his father would have “hated” that the Zabalaga farmhouse and fields through which his work extends became “a mausoleum, something immobile.” “A museum space has to stay alive and that has been achieved,” he adds.

A good part of his works are intermingled with the trees in the garden located in his museum in Hernani (Guipúzcoa). A good part of his works are intermingled with the trees in the garden located in his museum in Hernani (Guipúzcoa). – Photo: EFE

Eduardo Chillida fulfilled one of his dreams with the inauguration of a space in which he could contemplate the perfect fusion of his monumental iron and concrete figures with the landscape, as if it were a forest. Unfortunately, two years after the long-awaited opening of it, the artist died at his home in San Sebastián, at the age of 78, after suffering a long illness.

The Tindaya mountain project in Fuerteventura was pending, with which he envisioned “a large empty space inside a mountain for all men.” A proposal that ended up becoming a nightmare, as it was involved in controversy between the defenders of the environment and those who supported him. “Empty the mountain and create three communications with the outside: with the moon, with the sun and with the sea.” That was the idea of ​​a man who never stopped dreaming.

«One day I dreamed of a utopia: to find a space where my sculptures could rest and people would walk through them as if through a forest». That did make it.

Chillida, the great architect of the void