On one street alone I’ve spotted naked people, cockerel-carrying men, a mermaid, a mythical island and Jean-Paul Gaultier type sailors.
Los Llanos de Aridane on the Canary Island of La Palma is quite different from any other town I’ve visited. Thanks to one particularly eye-catching feature you could say it really is as pretty as a picture.
Shortly after arriving I found myself engrossed in a treasure hunt with a difference; exploring the town’s historic centre looking for quite unusual works of art.
I noticed the sailors first; three oversized mariners on a too-small liner. They look unsure of where they’re heading, presumably because ‘Hay Mil Vientos Posibles. Hay Mil Rumbos a Elegir’ (There are a thousand possible winds. There are a thousand directions to choose), the name given to the work by its creator, Javier de Juan.
Once I’ve clocked them, a flick of the eye takes me to the mermaid guarding the ocean that forms a disjointed part of the same work.
I say disjointed because she lives on a different building from the sailors. These paintings aren’t just part of a permanent street exhibition; they’re part of the street itself and a result of an ambitious and innovative project designed to turn Los Llanos de Aridane into an open air art gallery – La Ciudad en el Museo.
“One of our main objectives was to dispel the elitist image of modern art and bring it to a wider audience,” says Ricardo Suárez Acosto, one of the town’s dynamic tourist development team responsible for the initiative.
Apart from adding a splash of avant-garde colour to the streets, the project served to work fairy godmother magic on some of the bland 70s style gable ends that detracted from Los Llanos’ pretty and historic centre.
Initially four huge paintings were commissioned, each depicting a scene that had a connection with the town. Over the years others have been added and now there are about eighteen works of art dotted around the centre of Los Llanos. Not all are gable-end masterpieces. Some, like ‘The Guanche head that looks at the Sun’ are sculptures.
The Guanche head is good, but it was the urban paintings that captured my imagination and I wanted to track down as many as possible.
Some are easy to find. Turn my back on the sailors and I was faced with a group of naked people… and a blue cat; Historia Natural by Pedro González (the blue cat is a trademark). Just above this motley crew is the mythic Volcán-Torre de Babel en Los Llanos de Aridane by Luis Mayo.
Those were the easy ones. After that, a bit of ducking and diving down alleys and side streets was required to notch up Vitorino by Ceesepe (colourful with hints of Marc Chagall); Landscape by García Álvare (sorry García, my least favourite); La Gran Ola by Javier Mariscal (man-eating fish jumping out of a big wave); La Ofrenda by Andrés Rábago; Las Cuidades de San Borondón by Fernando Bellvar; the dreamy La Ciudad de la Mirada by Francisco Rossique and the absurdly named Bulevar de Melancholia en la Ciudad de los Gallos (boulevard of melancholy in the city of the cockerels) by Hugo Pitti which, apart from having a wonderfully surreal name, was probably my favourite piece of urban art in the town. It’s a busy, amusing depiction of Los Llanos where every male in it is carrying a cockerel for some reason.
The boulevard of cocks took my tally to 10; not exactly the full set but enough to warrant the reward of an icy cerveza in the town’s plaza.
Even under the protective arms of the plaza’s Indian laurels, there’s no escaping the gable-end sized paintings. From my cool vantage point, I was able to study the bustling melancholic boulevard in more detail.
Being able to sit, sipping a beer whilst contemplating art is part of the beauty of La Ciudad en el Museo. The paintings are ever present no matter what you’re doing – unless you’re the sort of person who walks as though looking for dropped coins on the pavement.
There’s something satisfyingly surreal about the fact that paintings about life in Los Llanos de Aridane have themselves become part of life in Los Llanos.