Blog: Nourishing the Artist: Spanish Art Retreat

It’s been a couple of weeks since we returned from our two-week Spain trip. The first week was spent at an artist retreat in the deserts and forests of Almeria. Isolated, off the grid, we created under the warm Spanish sky in the middle of what is a beautiful and striking nowhere. Inspirational artists, amazing food, riveting conversation, lovely accommodations, and the lush countryside: these are the perfect ingredients to nourish the starving creative soul.

Around Cortijada Los Gázquez

Simon and Donna Beckmann have created a pretty amazing experience, especially for someone like me who began a journey last year to reconnect with my inner artist, to return to a place that is closer to my creative soul. They’ve taken the ruins of a structure that once housed 4 families, in what is now a national park, and built an amazing, minimal, completely off the grid building with a studio for a resident artist as well as accommodations and work space for those attending the creative courses like we did. It’s called Cortijada Los Gazquez. It’s a 20-minute drive from the nearest small town of Velez Blanco.

This house is amazing: a wind turbine generates electricity that gets housed in an array of batteries and powers the house lights, computers and appliances. A solar panel generates energy to heat water and along with wood boilers provides hot water for faucets, showers, and heated floors and towel racks if the season requires it. Grey water from sinks and showers is collected and filtered through organic processes and used to water a nearby field.

Every day Simon must, at a certain time, prepare the boilers so there is hot water for showers and other things. We all make small adjustments so we use less water and electricity and generally waste less energy if possible.

Around Cortijada Los Gázquez

It’s a wondrous system and a testament to living off the grid. These systems are far from perfect, but manage to provide more than enough energy for an entire house of guests – ten of us all together including the Simon and his family.

Simon and Donna are both amazing and accomplished artists. During the day, Simon guided us through exercises designed to help us at once both connect with the process of creating and also detach from one’s own work. On one day we awoke and headed off for a hike in the hills to collect soil and rock which we later used to make paint. On another day we explored the abstract shapes in the shadows of the plant life around us. We played with color, technique, wax, dirt, raw pigment – a fertile playground for new ideas, a safe zone for letting go of your creative habits and experimenting. You are in the flow every day. Creating.

More from the Los Gazquez Artist Retreat

A few days in, I noted in my journal:

I’ve spent the last few days painting flowers. Studying them. Trying to find a voice. It’s been hard, but fun, and there are times when I am fully lost in the flow of it. Painting on my own time scale under the heat of the Spanish sky.

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It is watercolor – not a medium I often chose in school because of how little control I feel I have over it: you rely on the water and pigment drying in just such a way but only after years of practice, one masters the ability to understand how the water and paper and pigment work together – but you will always be at the mercy of the inconsistencies of how they interact with each other. To be a watercolor painter is to let go of your pre-conceived notions; the ideas of what you want in your head, and to give into the natural inclinations of the water, pigment, paper and brush. You are never fully in control, you are merely guiding these elements and stopping when you feel the combination is right for you.

More from the Los Gazquez Artist Retreat

There were moments when I felt like a student again, in art school, just enjoying and observing the way the medium moves, the way my mind thinks, the way it becomes so easy to get into the flow when the conditions are so perfect.

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During the week of the course, there is also a resident artist that works out of an ideal studio space that looks out on the fields and mountains surrounding the house. The week we were there, the artist in residence was Angie Lewin. Besides creating work in premises, and as part of her residency, Angie gave a wonderful presentation on her work, her influences, her process, her inspirations. I didn’t know much about her before the trip but really fell in love with her work. Throughout the week, we were welcomed into the studio to watch her work, ask her questions, and be inspired by her amazing sketches and experiments as she returned from her daily walk into the mountains. She created wondrous illustrations of the local plant life and was so amazingly prolific during the week. I was in awe!

Image courtesy of Angie Lewin

There is something special about being amongst artists, amongst those that feel the creative calling deep within their souls. This isn’t just a hobby for them, or simply a way to make a living. They have a lifelong yearning to create, to invent, to make the visions in their heads a reality. These are the storytellers; these are the masters that pass their knowledge down through the generations. These are the ones that believe in the power of art.

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All around us was beautiful art; Simon and Donna are such talented artists themselves and collect amazing artifacts from their global travels. Inspiration is everywhere: in the landscape, in the sunset, in the art, in the amazing food Donna created every night, in the wine and in the conversation.

Around Cortijada Los Gázquez

It was a wondrous feeling: being amongst these extraordinary artists, at one with their craft, influencing me and inspiring me to move beyond my tried and true crutches and take a risk. My thinking is forever changed; my confidence as an artist so much stronger. These are life-long impressions.

I realize that this trip was full of unknowns: we didn’t know any of the people on the course, we had never been to this area of Spain – so remote feeling. We didn’t know how 6-year old Oscar would fare throughout the adventure. We didn’t know what we would be doing each day. We went in with no expectations and a lot of unknowns and out of these unknowns, with open minds and the will to create, we were given a magical experience.

More from the Los Gazquez Artist Retreat

And as this experience continues to nourish me, as these artists continue to inspire me, as they continue to teach me to both let go of what I have planned and allow the accidents, the randomness to guide and influence the outcome of my work, I am reminded that this is the essence of life as an artist, as an eccentric: like watercolor, you flow with the uncertainties, with the randomness, with the unexpected, and when you feel the balance is right you subtly guide things in a direction that has now become evident.

Posted by: Michelangelo Capraro on  

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8 Responses to “Nourishing the Artist: Spanish Art Retreat”

  1. Michelangelo Capraro says: Thanks Angie for making it such a great experience. I just realized I hadn’t asked if I could use that photo, let me know if there is any issue with it.

    Hope you guys are well, we’ve been thinking about galleries with tea houses in them as of late 😉

  2. j ocean dennie says: so incredible to hear this first hand account of your time there…great blog article! my wife and i will be there in the fall and are so excited about going we can hardly contain ourselves! it’s great to hear you were so inspired there…everyone can use more inspiration in their lives, that’s for sure! 🙂

  3. Michelangelo Capraro says: @j ocean: glad you enjoyed the blog post and have great time at the Cortijada! It’s a rare and amazing experience

  4. Cecilia Rolando says: for someone who longs to visit Cortijada Los Gazquez, the description of your experience was totally inspiring!
    your photo images totally enhance your words. the inviting company, the splendid countryside, and ‘off the grid’
    nature of the environs –all marvelous–besides the pull of art making–all so appealing!

    i hope to visit some day!

    cecilia/ely, minnesota

  5. Michelangelo Capraro says: Thanks for the great comment Cecilia! If you ever get the chance, booking the trip really transforms you. Good luck and I hope you make it there