October 19, 2014

Joaquim Gifreu i Riera, Miniature constructions 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 constructions 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) ¹, 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 begin making creative constructions 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 constructions, 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 contructions, 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 include 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 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.

This art environment 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, screenprints from the video published here in agreement with the author)

¹ To my knowledge Jo Farb Hernandez is the only one who has published about Gifreu, so I like to acknowledge that this post is based upon Jo's research (interpretations are my responsibility of course)

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

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