As an artist the subject matter of my work is primarily nature based so the opportunity to hike, drive, and sketch in the spectacular Spanish Pyrenees mountain range was a very direct inspiration for my future work. I became particularly fascinated with the geological history of the region when I saw a display of marine fossils in the visitor’s centre of Parque Nacional Ordesa y Monte Perdido - Walking through this mountainous alpine region it was extraordinary to think that once (400 million years ago) it was tropical rainforest and the sea separated Spain and France. For the first part of my stay in the Pyrenees I was based in a tiny, fairytale, stone town called Torla, just outside the national park, and loved hiking the high and low trails through Ordesa Valley with cow bells tinkling in the background.
looking out at the mountains from Torla
partly a bar Torla + partly the train to Bilbao later on
I also explored the dramatic terrain of Canyon Anisclo as well as participating in a day of canyoning with Luis from Compania Guias de Torla, which involved exploring 2 canyons or "barrancos" (Viandico & Furco) by walking/swimming/sliding down the river and jumping/abseiling when we encountered a waterfall. Turns out I love canyoning, it was amazing! Being able to access areas of the river that couldn't have been seen any other way gave me a dramatically different and inspiring perspective on the landscape.
Canyoning near Ordesa National Park
From Ordesa, which was considered part of Aragon, I drove to Parc National D’Aiguestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici in Catalunya, again a very different, but absolutely amazing terrain marked by an abundance of beautiful, shining alpine lakes. In Aiguestortes I was able to spend a night in the secluded mountain Refugi Colomers, which allowed me plenty of time to complete the longer lake track circuiting around all the lakes in the area including the surreal dark waters and ice of high altitude lakes still surrounded by snow.
Aiguestortes National Park
view from Refugi Colomers
On the way to Bilbao from the Pyrenees I stopped for half a day in Zaragoza where I enjoyed seeing some of Goya’s early frescoes in the Basilica.
At the Guggenheim, Bilbao I was immediately struck by the organic freedom of Frank Gehry's architecture, especially inside the foyer where the tall curving walls made me imagine I was inside a shell or a skeleton. I also appreciated Gehry's design for the innovative way that he integrated existing elements of the city and the river. A number of great exhibitions were on display at the Guggenheim including the fantastic, contemporary, private collection of D. Dakalopoulos, “The Luminous Interval.” However, my favourite area was, by far, the permanent space devoted to the giant, experiential work of sculptor Richard Serra, which gained power and sensory effect the most time I spent with it.
Frank Gehry's Guggenheim, Bilbao
Richard Serra, "The Matter of Time"
The Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao held a wonderful collection of Spanish painting, of which I especially enjoyed the dark, swirling brushwork of Ignacio Zuloaga, and the special exhibition “Sacred Gold” exploring symbolism in pre-hispanic Columbian gold-work. Bilbao's Alhondiga had a very imaginative foyer with forty-three columns of different design and materials intended to represent important or popular materials and styles used over time, and in different cultures.