The last leg - Bilbao!
I arrived late at night after flying from Marrakech via Madrid. It was a bit of a bumpy start as I had suffered some water poisoning after swimming in the Ouzuod waterfalls. I was quite determined not to let this effect my Bilbao adventures and set out early the first day.
Aste Nagusia was not yet in full swing and I took this opportunity to spend Friday visiting the Fine Arts gallery as I didn't want to miss out on performances while the festival was going. This gallery turned out to be my favourite of the trip, the painting works were really diverse and introduced me to a few artists I'd yet to have stumbled across. This gallery was really tolerant of my drawing which was great. I could use whichever medium I wished to(being careful of mess) and was offered a seat twice by friendly attendants. I ended up returning on my final day before jetting home for a second whizz around the classical and renaissance paintings.
Perhaps the best part of the fine arts gallery was the video piece Infinite Garden which displayed close up imagery from Bosch paintings across the expanse of an entire room. This was interesting view into how much I could have been missing by not looking closer still at the works of Bosch. Their chaos changes dramatically when zoomed into - contextually it often feels like it becomes an entirely different painting. The room was intoxicating - I found it almost impossible to leave as it is a very long video piece, or at least didn't appear to visibly loop. Each time I went to leave the room would shift and I'd be pulled back in. Below is a short clip- not recorded by me - of the piece in a different location, while this allows some feel for the work nothing can compete with being in the room with it so be sure not to miss the chance if it ever visits your city!
The Guggenheim was also really interesting but I felt that the pieces were often picked for a more obviously attention grabbing wow factor. For most pieces this was their fame - Marc Chagall's paintings were a huge hit but most were in and out of the room very quickly and grumpily when they were told that they could not photograph the work. Admittedly I also found this a little frustrating and snuck a couple as they're very important to my studio work...at least that's my excuse for bending the rules. However it was Chagall's ink drawings that really struck my fancy, I've been overly committed to pencil drawings for the last couple of years and the forgiving material has lead to my being rigid with my mark making. I think it is time I try to draw with inks to force myself to be free with my marks as well as more committed to each mark made.
I did find there was far too much emphasis on scale during my stay in the Guggenheim, by putting numerous large scale pieces all in the same place the impact is lost entirely - for example I had really looked forward to standing below "Maman" by Louise Bourgeois but instead found myself underwhelmed by its huge scale due to the massive bridge and Jeff Coon's tulips and Richard Serra's colossal iron sheets all within a couple yards of one another. I understand that the Guggenheim ought to host large scale work as few venues CAN allow the space for such things but it does feel a little as though scale and price tag are put miles ahead of concept or craft. This gallery was far less tolerant of drawings, it was difficult to draw anywhere that there wasn't a bench, these often were in a corner no where special so I mostly attempted to stand holding my sketchbook but was often asked not to stand in the way of others which lead to a good few unfinished sketches, it was a little frustrating as a gallery of all places should really nurture the next generation of workers in it's field.
The festival kicked off on Saturday night, I had been nervous to attend as I was still quite unwell and was really starting to miss home but the festival turned out to be everything I had needed. I got to the main square early as I'd heard that if you wanted to sit - which I had to - you needed to be there from the start. Before the festival even started there was flour and red wine being thrown everywhere - it was a wonderful mess and soon devolved to eggs and crisps, ketchup and mustard and the occasional pie. People walked around in what looked like a drunk persons pancake batter. The festival Icon marked the beginning of the festival by ducking under a doorway and onto a balcony where she danced to a song dedicated to her. The above video is also not mine, clicking through to youtube will show the source - my phone recordings left a lot to be desired due to vast quantities of flour in the air! It was later that night I met 5 wonderful french tourists who took an interest in my drawings, one of which - Maxime - worked in the cultural sector in Cologne. Bonding over travel mishaps and the enjoyment of the festival helped me stop missing home and really discuss my art and the vacation scholarships in detail which increased my confidence.
The next few days of the festival were a blur of music and circus acts, musuem visits and street performers. The bars served food during the day and each had its own theme - often a political standpoint or expression of concern. Some fought for LGBTQ+ rights, others believed feminism required more attention due to an increase in inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment of women during the festival last year. Many commented on police violence and political prisoners of the Catalan uprising, one I really enjoyed displayed a dog in a police officers clothing with the statement "no bad dogs, only bad owners". Art was a really important part of these commentaries - the stalls were mostly hand painted and crafted and used these metaphors and symbolism well. Despite the political undercurrent - there was no violence, no arguments and a lot of polite and interesting debate in the streets, I spent many hours drawing in these areas and was very often approached with questions about my artwork. These were my favourite interactions of the entire scholarship, each person brought new information. I found out about the cultural similarities between Bilbao and Aberdeen - the historic sports like wood cutting and stone throwing mirroring caber tossing and shot-put; the interest in independence from the larger country being a fluctuating but ever present topic. However it wasn't always so serious - others simply invited me to draw them, eat with them, dance with them and enjoy the festival, trading stories about previous years and asking about Scotland and my drawings. I even hosted an impromptu drawing class for one little girl which quickly turned into around 7 children each with a napkin or paper scrap all borrowing my pens in a semi circle on the pavement. I found the whole festival really renewed a confidence in community art and the importance of drawings and creativity amongst all ages and as a communicator for change and reform.
It was a wonderful end note to a fascinating 3 weeks away.