August 09, 2009

Julio Basanta López, Casa de Dios, Las castillicos de Epila/House of God, The castles of Epila

picture from the website of Spanish TV
Life and works

Julio Basanta (1933-2018) was born in Zaragoza, Spain, in a family with ten children, all boys. He had a difficult childhood, also because of the civil war that raged in the 1930s. He got a job as a bricklayer and a mason. he married and the couple had five children, including four girls

On a plot of land in the community of Épila, in the neighborhood of Zaragoza, Basanta single-handedly constructed a weekend house, which got a rather special construction with three separate structures and a configuration of parts that look like a castle.

In the mid 1960s Basanta began transforming this summer house into an art environment, adding a variety of sculptures that mainly represented deities and demons.

picture local newspaper Goza Zaragoza (march 2010)
the poster in the background says that looking around 

will cost € 50 (listening to some sacred music included) 
His project was named La Casa de dios (House of God) or Las Castillicos de Épila (The small castles of Épila).

The plural refers to the fact that the house consists of a number of structures referred to as "small castles").

picture El Pais (Arquitectura 5, 2006)
On the walls of the property there are texts which refer to religious themes, what could mean that Basanta was inspired by religious considerations when he began this project.

However, the scenes Basanta created are not gentle or mystical, but rather rude and terrifying. In a comment in a newspaper the creation has been denoted as not being art brut but rather art brutal. 

this picture and the next one: screenprints from
the 2010 video (see documentation)

Basanta's life had several tragic moments. His father left the family when he was very young, and he and the other children were placed in an orphanage. 

In 1977 his brother Vincente, who was doing graffiti on a wall, was shot dead by the police, and later, in 2002 this also happened to his only son Moses. In both cases the circumstances surrounding the events remained unclear. An inscription on a wall (the yellow one below) recalls these events.

Considering that already in the mid 1960s Basanta was active in creating the Case de Dios, these events can only partly provide an explanation for the specific characteristics of the site.


At age 85 Basanta passed away on July 8, 2018.

The sculptures got neglected

After Basanta died it was unclear what the future of this art environment would be.

In October 2019 a petition asked both the community of Épila and the regional authorities to help with funding to save the site for the future.

In May 2020 regional journal Heraldo reported that the condition of the sculptures had deteriorated due to the rain and winter cold. Apparently, the authorities hadn't taken any measures aimed at their preservation.

Good news in November 2021

In November 2021 a  Spanish newspaper reported that the site was bought by Jorge Labé, an inhabitant of Zaragoza. This gives good hope regarding the continued existence of this art environment.

Below is a photo of the site taken in October 2021.


This  picture was made by Tiramisu Bootfighter, who traveled through Spain in the context of his project La Valise, Galerie Ambulante. It shows that the site at that time was still in relatively good condition.

Documentation
* Article (2009) on weblog Bajo Mi Boina
* Spanish TV in 2010 had a program about a number of Spanish outsider artists (Outsiders 2)
* The site got a scholarly review in: Jo Farb Hernandez, Singular Spaces. From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, Seattle (Raw Vision, SPACES, San José State University), 2013. A short version was published on the website of SPACES
* Entry with pictures on España Bizarra, Tumblr May 2014
* A shortened version of a lecture (September 2019, Zaragoza, Spain) by Jo Farb Hernandez about art environments in general and Basanta's site in particular

Videos
* Video by Santiago Gomez (3'59", YouTube, uploaded April 2014)



* Video by Enrique Guerrero (1'29", YouTube, uploaded april 2015)


first published August 2009, last revised October 2021

Julio Basanta López
Las castillicos de Épila (Casa de Dios)
Épila, Aragon, Spain
can be seen from the street, 
no regular visiting hours scheduled

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