I was greeted by warm sunshine when I visited the wonderful gardens of the Zabalaga house, home to the artistic legacy of one of the 20th century’s most important sculptors, Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002). The Museo Chillida-Leku (Gipuzkoa) project was initiated by the artist himself as a place to house a large part of his work. It consists of large and small scale sculptures, drawings, graphical work and his well-known Gravitaciones, also known as reliefs on paper. The archives are located in the old 16th century shed, lovingly restored by Eduardo and his wife Pilar Belzunce: by juxtaposing in this way, an interesting dialogue is created beween his older work and his contemporary work.
“I once dreamed of a utopia: to find myself in a place where my sculptures could rest and where people could stroll among them as if in a forest”.
Eduardo Chillida’s son, Luis, is today head of the Marketing and Communication department. Together we walked through the gardens and the parts of the grounds that were thick with trees, all full of the Basque artist’s sculptures. He told me about the huge effort required to keep the project going — a task which the entire family is devoted to, and which seems to be carried out professionally and responsibly. The grounds measure 13 hectares and are extremely well looked-after; it was lovely to be able to walk at leisure, admiring one beautiful sculpture after another.
Chillida’s unique artistic language, which he has written about in a number of texts, helps us better understand his thought process and his work. Space, time, limits, scale, emptiness, matter and horizon are all ideas which are heavily present in his visual language and which form the basis of his work. Light is another crucial element, one that is especially evident in the alabasters, as well as the idea of limitation. Chillida explores both space and emptiness: he sees both as necessary tools in the making of his sculptures.
Chillida’s philosophy is pure spatial metaphysics, which links him intellectually to Martin Heidegger. The philosopher’s thoughts in “Art and Space” (1968) are so closely aligned to Chillida’s idea of space that he actually asked the artist to illustrate his thoughts for him. According to the philosopher, sculptures create places — without them, places do not exist. I could really sense this philosophy coming alive while we were walking through the grounds.
“I believe that we all come from somewhere. Ideally, we should come from a certain place, we should have our roots somewhere, so that our arms may reach all parts of the world, and so that we may benefit from any culture, no matter where it may come from. Any place can be ideal for those who open their minds; here in my Basque Country I feel at home, like a tree with its roots in the earth beneath it, grounded in one place but with arms open to the world. I am trying to create the work of a man, my own work, and since I come from the Basque Country, my work will have a certain essence to it, a black light, which is uniquely ours.” Eduardo Chillida.
After the visit, I couldn’t help going to see the Ondarreta beach and the Peine del Viento sculpture. Chillida has created a whole new space in this beautiful beach, where one can lose oneself in contemplation of the sky, the sea and the earth among architecture that literally “combs the wind”.
My visit to the area was a great excuse to go on a gastronomic tour in San Sebastián, to please the palate rather than the eyes. This world-class tour is one of the best one can find in this region, where the Michelin stars per resident ratio is the highest in the world.
My food tour started at the Rekondo restaurant and dinner in Zuberoa (1 Michelin star). The following day, lunch at the Asador Etxebarri (1 Michelin star) and dinner at Arzak (3 Michelin stars). We finished off with a trip to Martin Berasategui (3 Michelin stars).
One of my favourite restaurants was the Asador Etxebarri, where Bittor Arginzoniz’s cooking is entirely charcoal-grilled (be it fish, seafood, vegetables or meat). The ingredients were all of the highest quality, full of a delightful charcoal and smoke taste and smell.
My other favourite was Martin Berasategui, where the menu is very light and creative, each dish an exceptional, innovative cooking experience.
In Rekondo I tasted typical home-made Basque food together with a first-rate selection of wines, which I am told is among the best in the world.
Yet another top restaurant is Zuberoa, located in a 15th century Basque country house. The head chef is Hilario Arbelaitz and it boasts a tasting menu that definitely deserves its 1 Michelin star.
To round things up, Arzak was a continuous flow of highly creative sculpture-like dishes. This is avant-garde cuisine which is constantly evolving, very different to what I experienced when I last came here many years ago.
"One must look for the untrodden paths." Eduardo Chillida. Something these chefs have certainly done...