Guggenheim
Introduction

The earth that sleeps (La tierra que duerme), 1986
Steel and oil paint, 66 x 120 x 39 cm
Soledad Lorenzo Collection, temporary loan to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid
© VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016

“[In The earth that sleeps] I also chose a concept, landscape, which is not very sculptural. In this instance, the sculpture seems to elevate the ground plane and rest on what thematically would be the underground. It’s a link between the visible and the invisible.”[1] Pello Irazu

Pello Irazu (Andoain, 1963) studied at the School of Fine Arts of the University of the Basque Country. In searching for his own language, the young artist began to add objects to his paintings, and thus endowed his works with a three-dimensional quality. This process led him to his first sculptures. In his early years, Irazu was grouped in with New Basque Sculpture, which included a number of artists who rejected the major guiding principles of the local tradition, and instead rooted their work in Minimalism and reinterpreted aspects of the sculptures of Jorge Oteiza (Orio,1908−Donostia/San Sebastián, 2003). On his path towards creating his own, eclectic and very personal language, Irazu embraced, questioned and analyzed Oteiza’s ideas on the treatment of space and materials. In his search for essential forms and volumes, he was also open to the influence of Minimalism. However, Irazu does not limit himself to reproducing pure geometric forms, but instead works in an organic manner, by creating pieces that have anthropomorphic and zoomorphic features. [2] Starting from there, Irazu has created an extensive oeuvre over a period of thirty years, working with and mixing greatly diverse materials and media.

From the beginning of his career, Irazu has defined himself through the creation of small-scale sculptures such as The earth that sleeps, made in1986. His objective was to rely only on his own strength and his own physicality to handle the materials he chose to create his works. Through their dimensions, Irazu’s works reflect a human scale and the aspiration to create objects that in themselves possess an intense energy. [3] Throughout his career, it has been important for Irazu not to lose the human scale, or the ability to make the pieces himself. Opting to use heavy materials such as iron, steel and wood, Irazu was therefore obliged to create small-scale works. Despite this limitation, in the works he conceived during his early period, such as The earth that sleeps, the dense nature of the materials and their physical aspect acquire a particular importance and confer energy to the pieces. [4] In this work, the artist alludes to landscape, using the material —in this case, steel— in an organic manner, almost in contradiction to its own rigidity; and through color, applied directly to the work, he rejects the material’s industrial finish and softens the sculpture, enhancing it with a pictorial dimension. [5] Color, understood as just another material, is a particularly important characteristic of his sculptures. Through color, Irazu draws attention to specific parts of the pieces, reduces some of its wholeness and questions the uniform totality of the piece. [6]

Questions

Look closely at the work and describe it: its forms, materials, relation to space…  

The earth that sleeps is made of steel and oil paint. What are the characteristics of these materials? What qualities do they suggest? What do you associate with steel? What do you associate with oil paint? What effect appears when joining two materials that are so different from one another? Why did Irazu decide to paint his sculpture? Why do you think the artist painted only part of the sculpture? Give reasons for your answers.

At the beginning of his career, Irazu made small-scale works because he wanted to be able to work the material on his own, with his own hands and without the need to use machines, and he wanted to assemble his sculptures relying on himself alone. This process restricted the scale of his pieces, since the material he chose to work with is very heavy. The earth that sleeps is one of his first sculptures, and it is considered a small-scale work. How would the way you perceive it change if it were larger? What about if it were much smaller?

What do you think about the artist’s purposeful decision to make works that can only be made using his own physical strength? What advantages and disadvantages does such a decision pose? Why did he choose to work in this manner? Do you think that it is important for the artist to be physically involved in the production of his/her work?

Many other sculptors, including Chillida and Oteiza, conceived their works, made scale models of them in malleable materials (such as chalk or clay) and then hired specialized teams to cast or forge them into large-scale metal works. Do you think that the work of an artist is equally valid, when executed by others or by using machines? Why? What would Irazu have needed to work on a larger scale? Make a list of these needs.

When exhibited, The earth that sleeps is normally placed directly on the ground. Why do you think the artist prefers it to be shown in this manner? Would your perception of the work change depending on the way it were exhibited? How? And what if you saw it on the street instead of in a museum? If a work is exhibited on a pedestal or on the ground, does this change our appreciation of it? Where do you prefer to look at sculptures, and why? Do you think that artists should decide how their works should be displayed, or should it be decided by an expert in exhibition design? Consider the different priorities and expectations that artists and exhibition design experts would have.

Irazu titled this sculpture The earth that sleeps. According to him, it represents “a link between the visible and the invisible”. Read the complete quote at the beginning of the guide: what does he mean? How can you relate his statement to the piece? If you could change the title of the work, how would you name it?

Activities

Write a story:

Imagine that this sculpture by Irazu was pictured on the cover of a book entitled The earth that sleeps. Write a short story inspired by the work. Take time first to look at the sculpture and try to imagine the landscape where your story could take place. What is that place like? Is it flat or mountainous? Are there roads, trails and paths that crisscross the landscape? What does the lower part of the work remind you of? Remember that Irazu calls this work “a link between the visible and the invisible”.

Make a sculpture out of cardboard:

Use a medium-size cardboard box to make a sculpture. First, take off the top, which you will use as the base of the work. Then, cut up the rest of the box into seven or eight geometrical forms. Don’t forget to leave a tab on the edge of these forms, at the top or bottom, in order to glue the forms to the base at a right angle.

Create a sculpture by making a combination from these forms. You can use the cover of the box as a base and stick the forms on top or below it, but remember to balance the forms so that the piece stands on its own. Give your work a title and show it to your classmates.

Personification

Irazu titled his work The earth that sleeps, attributing a human quality or action (to sleep) to an inanimate natural element (the earth). Write the names of different natural elements (“a cloud”, “the sky”, “a tree”, “the sea”, etc.) on different small pieces of paper and put them in a bag. Then, write human actions (“that cries”, “that smiles”, “that eats”, “that works”, etc.) on other small pieces of paper and put them in another bag. Pick one paper from each bag without looking. Make a sketch of the work whose title would be the combination of the two pieces of paper chosen from the bags. You can repeat this activity several times until you find your preferred combination.

Vocabulary

Scale: proportion or relationship in size between a representation of something and its true dimensions.

New Basque Sculpture: a catch-term for a number of artists who, without actually forming a group, shared a number of interests and inspirations, including their interest in the works of Jorge Oteiza and certain concepts of Minimalism. 

Notes

[1] Audio-guide of the exhibition Pello Irazu. Panorama.
[2] Audio-guide of the exhibition Pello Irazu. Panorama.
[3] http://www.museoph.org/MuseoPatioHerreriano/coleccion/listado_de_autores/searchObra/80/232/
[4] Audio-guide of the exhibition Pello Irazu. Panorama.
[5] http://masdearte.com/artistas/irazu-pello/
[6] Audio-guide of the exhibition Pello Irazu. Panorama.