October 19, 2014

Joaquim Gifreu i Riera, Miniature constructs and scenes

 view from the street

Not what one would expect to see in a decent neighbourhood in the centre of a spanish city, but Figueres (Catalonia, Spain) has it: an art environment with a large number of miniature constructs and scenes located in a small garden in front of a corner house just in the middle of town.

Santa Maria de Cistella (Gifreu's place of birth)
this picture and the next ones: screenprints 
from the video by Serflac (see documentation)

Life and works*

Joaquim Gifreu i Riera (1922-2011), who created this outsider environment, for over thirty years had a job as a gestor, a private functionary who assists citizens when they have to deal with Spain's enormous bureaucracy, such as getting formal permits and settle tax matters.

During most of his life nothing suggested that this respected citizen one day would start making creative constructs and display these around his house in a neat neighbourhood.

the towers of the Sagrada Familia

When Gifreu got retired, he and his wife enjoyed travelling around, in Spain and to foreign countries, where they would visit famous monuments.

After his wife died, Gifreu stayed alone and at the age of 77 he decided he should find a hobby to fill the empty hours. So he tried making small constructs, replica of bridges, churches and monuments, using as examples the documentation he had gathered during his previous trips.

Caixa Forum (Barcelona), Sant Romá (Lloret de Mar) 
and a mill

Untill age 88 Gifreu has been active in making these contructs, all together producing some seventy various creations.

Installed in the small garden in front of his house, this space eventually would be hardly large enough to contain all creations.

The pictures in this post mainly show some churches, but apart from buildings Gifreu also made replica of for example the Pisa Tower, the pyramids in Egypt, bridges in Spain, but also of Dali's sculpture of an elephant with long, thin legs, of the Don Quixote/Sancho Panza couple, and of various other items.

Although every single item in the garden is carefully designed to scale, the proportions are not the same for all creations, so the garden as such is not a miniature ensemble such as made by other outsider artists.

Amidst his own creations Gifrea also displayed sculptures and other decorative garden elements he bought.

Santa Maria de Taüll (Pyrenees)

Garden still extant

Gifreu died in 2011. Currently his son lives in the house. Although some creations have been removed, currently (2014) the site is largely still extant, as Serflac's video demonstrates.

It can be seen from the street.

* The site got a scholarly review in: Jo Farb Hernandez, Singular Spaces. From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, Seatlle (Raw Vision, SPACES, San José State University), 2013. A highly abridged version is on the website of SPACES
* Video by Serflac (2'26", Youtube, uploaded june 2014)

To my knowledge Jo Farb Hernandez is the only one who has published about Gifreu, so I acknowledge with pleasure that this post draws upon Jo's research (interpretations are my responsibility of course)

Joaquim Gifreu i Riera
Miniature constructs and scenes
Corner of the Carrer Ramon LLull/Carre Dr. Rovira
Figueres, ES
can be seen from the street

October 06, 2014

Henri Galtier, Village occitan de Camarière/Occitan village Camarière

this picture and the next one  
from the touristic website Découverte34

Lunas is a small community of some 650 inhabitants located in the Hérault area in southern France.

One of its inhabitants, visual artist Henri Galtier, about whom no biographical data are available, has embellished part of a terraced hill at the outskirts of the village with a miniature village. 

This creative ensemble has some forty items which depict the school, the town hall,  the bar, the butcher, the barber, indeed, all shops and other buildings that used to be present in a small french village, and then the site also displays a variety of personalities that characterise village life, such as people playing pétanque, a shepherdess, a chimney sweeper, a woman hanging laundry, and so on......

picture from the weblog l'Herault insolite

This miniature village is not open for visits by the public. It has been constructed in such a way that it can be seen from the street (chemin de Nize, actually).

Although the people who populate the village are lifesize, best bring binoculars to get a good impression.

view from the road to Nize, at the height of nr 9

Documentation, more pictures
* Website Amis de Lunas, with detailed pictures of all items of the miniature village 
* Website l'Hérault insolite (march 2011)

Henri Galtier
Village occitan de Camarière
Lunas, FR
no visits, can be seen from the chemin de Nize

September 21, 2014

Khadambi Asalache, Decorated interior

view from the street

Hidden behind a big tree, Asalache's house when seen from the outside is an ordinary house in an ordinary South London street. The inside, however, is a little gem of woodcarving.

the entrance

Life and works

Khadambi Asalache (1935-2006) was born in Kaimesie, Kenya. Already as a youngster he showed great interest in literary and artistic aspects of life. So after his primary education he studied architecture in Nairobi and then -in the nineteenfifties- he left for Europe, residing in Rome, Geneva and Vienna, where he studied fine arts.

In 1960 he settled in London, to live there for the rest of his life. 

In London Asalache earned his income by teaching Swahili and working for the BBC Africa service. He also did some architectural and landscaping projects, wrote poetry and worked on a book, that was published in 1967, entitled A Calabash of Life. 

In 1970 he got a masters of philosophy in the field of philosophy of mathematics and he was appointed as a civil servant at the Treasury, the UK department of finance, a job he would perform for many subsequent years.

In 1981 he bought the house on 575 Wandsworth Road in South London, an old house built in 1810, with five rooms, having been squatted and meanwhile in need of repair. 

Asalache did some repair work with old floor boards, but was not happy with the heavy effect, so he decided to add some decorative ornaments. 

This triggered him so, that he decided to make a project of decorating the interior of his house. As is the case with many artists listed in this blog, it became a lifetime project, that Asalache continued for some twenty years, almost untill his death in 2006.

Working in the evening and in his free weekends, he decorated all rooms with fretwork shelves, arches, architraves and friezes, using birds, dancers, flowers, leaves and geometric patterns as motifs.

Beside these decorations, he also embellished the interior with 19th century english pottery he had collected in the course of the years.

Asalache himself has said that he was inspired by the mosque in Cordoba, the Alhambra in Granada, doors of houses in Zanzibar, interiors in Damascus and wooden houses in Istanbul.

In his hands the old house has become a beautiful art environment.

The legacy is cared for by the National Trust

Asalache bequeathed his house to the National Trust, which accepted the bequest in 2010. Meanwhile a first part of maintenance work has taken place, but more funds are needed to complete the works.

The house can be visited on appointment, but the size of the house only allows groups of six at a time. 

*  Video by Stories of the World, London (Youtube, uploaded oct 2011, 2´42"')

Khadambi Asalache
Decorated interior
575 Wandsworth Road, South London UK
can be visited on appointment (see website National Trust)
fully booked for 2014

September 11, 2014

Erich Bödeker, Garten mit Skulpturen/Sculpture garden

Life and works

Born in Recklinghausen (Germany) Erich Bödeker (1904-1971), having completed his primary education at the age of around fourteen, went to work in a coal mine, in these days an important industry in the german Ruhr area.

He would continue this job for over forty years, untill in 1959, at age 54, he contracted silicosis and was declared unfit.

From the catalogue of the exposition 
Panorama International de la peinture naive   
organized in 1964 by the 
Mission universitaire et culturelle Française au Maroc 

For Bödeker this was the moment to start a new life. 

Much to the astonishment of his family and friends, he began making sculptures from all types of wastematerial such as old boxes, kitchenware, parts of machines...

After his first experiences with this kind of activity, he continued making sculptures by mainly using wood and concrete, in particular with a focus upon depicting persons and animals  

He covered his sculptures with rain-resistant brightly colored paint (The video listed in the documentation has pics in color; those of the garden, made in the nineteen-sixties, all are in B/W).

this picture and the next two: screenprints
from the Bohnes video (see documentation)

Bödeker displayed his creations in the small garden at his home, which in general contained some hundred items. 

In 1961, fairly soon after he started as a naive artist he met the director of the museum in Recklinghausen, who arranged an exposition of his works in the local town hall. 

Thereafter Bödeker almost every year got expositions (click here for a complete list). In 1970 he participated in the first Triënnale of Naive Art in Bratislava (INSITA) , where he won the first prize for sculptures.

Although his garden became a meeting point of people who were interested in his sculptures, as far as I know, in Germany the site as such never has been seen or described as an art environment.

Probably Bödeker himself used the garden more as a storage area, rather than that he wanted to transform it into an artistic creation as such. But then, Bödeker also had to learn from others, that he happened to be a naive artist... 

Indeed, recognizing and naming art work frequently is dependent upon the point of view and background of the observer. When in France in the nineteen-sixties interest in art environments arose (Ehrmann's Les inspirés et leur demeures, 1962; first research of Bernard Lassus), Germany did not have such a development, perhaps also because these phenomena are rare in that country.

Having been active as a naive artist for some eleven years, in 1971 Bödeker died in his garden in the midst of his sculptures. 

He has made over a thousand sculptures, many of which have been included in museum collections. 

However, I couldn't trace any information about what happened to Bödeker's other artistic legacy and how it went with his garden, 

* The Bödeker-Gesellschaft für Naive Kunst deals in-depth with naive art and artists, and has inventarised all works by Bödeker.
* Stefan Schwidder, "Naive Kunst von Erich Bödeker: die Kunstwerke ehemaliger Bergwerkskumpel", in: Deutsches Algemeines Sontagsblatt, July 6th 2000 
* Video uploaded to Vimeo by Jochen Bohnes, a contribution of his father Wilhelm G. Bohnes to a cultural program on ZDF TV (Germany)

Erich Bödeker from Jochen Bohnes on Vimeo.

Erich Bödeker
Garten mit Skulpturen
Recklinghausen, Germany
location unknown

September 08, 2014

Joseph Meyer, Maison aux allures de chateau/Castle-like house

view from the street 

In my post of april 23, 2011 Visiting some environments in Northern France with Laurent Jacquy this castle-like house constructed by Joseph Meyer (1914 - ?) has been briefly mentioned.

The following post has a bit more information ànd it has pictures of the structures at the backside of the house which hitherto were not available on the internet.

constructs at the backside of the house 
this picture and the next ones (2013) 
courtesy of Rita and Pieter Boogaart

Life and works

Meyer, who was born in 1914, was wounded when in military service during World War II. He lost a leg and a number of fingers.

He wanted to show that notwithstanding his disability he was able to carry out something big.

another view of the backside

So from around 1950 till around 1960 Meyer has been active in transforming his house -located in an ordinary subsurb of a french seaside resort- into a castle-like structure, a building with two high rising towers, one at the streetside and one at the backside.

The staircase on above picture leads to a towerroom of 27 m2 (291 sq ft) that in summer can be rented as a holiday apartment

 detailed view of the decorations of the backside tower

On the frontside the house has another tower, this one slightly more modest than the one at the rear, but nicely decorated and equipped with a small watch tower at its flank. 

The inner court at the front side is separated from the street by a crenelated and decorated wall, that also has some niches.

inner court at the frontside 
with tower and part of the outside wall

As can be seen on the first picture the exterior wall has two gates. of which the left one has a pediment topped with a shield, which has an inscription that reads KIA MATE TOA, Fight unto death, the motto of soldiers from Southland, New Zeeland, who fought in Gallipoli in the First World War.

This tribute to New Zeeland's soldiers may have to do with Meyers activities as a soldier during the second world war, but I couldn't trace any information about this, as there is also no information on the internet about other aspects, such as when Meyer passed away and when the property was transferred to new owners, who deserve praise for the good care they take of this art environment/folly.

Joseph Meyer
Maison aux allures de chateau
152 rue Émile Lavezzari
Berck-Plage FR
no visits, can be seen from the street

August 21, 2014

Luis Rico Pinilla, Palacios y Catedrales/Palaces and Cathedrals

view from the street
pictures: screenshots from 
the Serflac video (see documentation)

Life and works

Born in the community of Sanchoñu in the Segovia area, Luis Rico Pinilla (b.1938) at age fifteen moved to Bilbao where he expected to find better opportunities to earn an income. 

He got a room in the house of a brother and one his first activities in Bilbao was to buy brushes, paint and canvases.

Although artistically motivated, Rico would not seek a career as a professional artist. He got a job as a mechanic at a factory of metal products and thereafter he went to work at Petronor, a Basque oil and gas company. He would hold this job for over thirty years, untill he retired in 2009.

In his free time Rico would make paintings  and at some moment he also began making replicas from cathedrales and other monumental buildings.

In 1981 he bought a piece of land in the San Roque neighbourhood in the community of Zierbena near Bilbao with the intention to build a holiday home there.

Since there was no water supply, Rico built a square concrete basin to collect rainwater. In doing this he got the idea he might as well continue building, and erect a castle around the basin.

So it happened. The construction of a holidayhome was postponed and Rico built a phantasy castle, some five meters high and with a floor area of some forty square meters. He would only use recycled materials.

part of the collection of replica's

The building obviously is a phantasy creation, an impression that is reinforced by the presence of gnomes on its landings and in the surrounding garden. In the evening the castle can be illuminated (by solar energy).

replica of Neuschwanstein in Hohenschwamgau

The all together some forty replicas of castles and cathedrals are retained in the adjacent living house, that meanwhile has been builded.

These replicas on various scales, mainly made from cardboard and wood, depict famous, in general european buildings, such as the Notre Dame from Paris, the St Basil Cathedral in Moscow, the Vatican, London Bridge, Neuschwannstein, the Palacio Real in Madrid and many others.  

replica of St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow

In recent years parts of the collection have been exhibited, for example in a neighbouring public library.


* Article in regional newspaper Deia (june 2014)
* Video by Serflac (Youtube, 5'53", uploaded july 2014

* Video by Tele7Radio7 (Youtube, 4'24", uploaded july 2014)

* Video by Tele7Radio7 (Youtube, 1'02", uploaded feb 2012), showing some of the replica

Luis Rico Pinilla
Palacios y Catedrales
San Roman Auzoa,
Zierbena, Bizkaia, ES
can be seen from the road, no public visits

August 10, 2014

Heikki Kylliäinen, Satumökkipiha/Fairytale Cottage Garden

the site as seen from the street

Savitaipale is a small community of some 3800 inhabitants in the South Karelia area in southern Finland.

It has a special art environment: a fairytale cottage garden, created by Heikki Kylliäinen, who had a job in a local factory producing prefab concrete and in 1992 was declared unfit because of a back injury.

this picture and the next ones 
courtesy of Raija Kallioinen

The large garden around his house nowadays has of a collection of various wooden cottages, some rather small, others with three floors and with balconies, all singlehandedly constructed by Kylliäinen in the course of the years.

All cottages have been abundantly decorated with colorful items, often made from recycled materials,

These items, may represent birds, flowers, horses or stars and in general are arranged in rhytmic patterns.

Other embellishments made by Kylliäinen have the form of garlands and mobiles.

A special variety of mobiles, in generally made from straw and used to decorate the interior of houses, especially at Christmas time, in Finnish is called himmeli.

So Kylliäinen's art environment is also announced as Himmelitaivas, as in Pirtola's video (see documentation).

Trees in a row that limit the garden, are connected with these colorful creations.   

* Video by Erkki Pirtola (14'43", uploaded nov 2012, Youtube)_

Heiiki Kylliäinen
Savitaipale, FI