Arts + Culture

Fowler Museum exhibition explores the fanciful art environments of 8 self-taught Spanish artists

“Singular Spaces” begins April 12

Singular Spaces art
Jo Farb Hernández

El Capricho de Cotrina by Francisco González Gragera, part of the "Singular Spaces" exhibit.

“Singular Spaces: From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments” presents 47 photographs by Jo Farb Hernández documenting the monumental art environments of eight self-taught artists from Spain. The exhibition explores Hernández’s extensive study of Spanish environmental artists — she crisscrossed Spain from 2000 to 2014, traveling thousands of miles to meet and interview artists and document their work.

These artists developed environmental sites — including sculptures, gardens and buildings — organically, without formal architectural or engineering plans. The sites are often fanciful and colorful, and many are characterized by incongruous juxtapositions. This is the result of the artists finding inspiration in their surroundings and making do with what is available.

Their work is always ongoing and improvisational, and generally monumental in scale or in number of components, and they are intended to be viewed and experienced as a whole, rather than as a grouping of discrete parts. They owe less to more mainstream or marketable art traditions than to the artists' personal and cultural experiences and their desire for creative expression.

“I wanted to break down the compartmentalization of genres and reveal how these artists fuse their creations with daily existence in a way generally unmatched in the art world,” Hernández said. “The sites show complete commitment to the work and serve as a self-reflection of the maker’s life and concerns.”

The artist José María Garrido, for example, worked as a fisherman for 20 years until a close friend drowned during a storm. Garrido decided never to sail again; instead, he paid homage to his friend and the sea by creating “Museo del Mar — a monumental museum structure he fashioned in the shape of a ship. Garrido covered the walls of the museum with 80,000 sea-snail shells, photographs of old ships, signs bearing maritime proverbs and objects he gathered from beaches.

Other featured artists include Josep Pujiula, renowned internationally for his woven wooden towers and labyrinths, and Francisco González Gragera, whose “Capricho de Cotrina” is an outstanding example of architectural art brut.

These artist-builders have typically been discussed in the context of “outsider art.” But many of them grapple with the same formalist, conceptual and aesthetic issues that academically trained artists confronts, despite their isolation from the contemporary art world. Most of them build on or within their own immediate and personal spaces, whether homes, gardens, or farms. The environments they create become a visual accounting of how their creators have spent their lives and what was important to them.

These sites are neither completely comprehensible nor clearly viewable from a single perspective. What may at first seem rather chaotic will often evolve — after several viewings from multiple perspectives — into a patterned, rhythmic milieu akin to improvisational jazz. These artists’ creative processes are wildly imaginative and always-evolving.

Jo Farb Hernández is director of the Thompson Art Gallery at San Jose State University and of the archives of SPACES, a nonprofit art organization. She is also the author of the accompanying volume Singular Spaces, which presents case studies of 45 Spanish environmental artists and their work.

Public Programs

Saturday, April 11, 1–4 p.m.

Kids in the Courtyard: Home is Where the Art Is

Explore the photographs of fantastically decorated homes from the exhibition and consider the architectural creativity in your neighborhood. Participants can contribute to a group fort-building project and create a colorful wind chime.

Thursday, April 16, 6 p.m.

Fowler Out Loud: UCLA Guitarists Present Spanish Music

A program of Spanish music directed by guitar professor Peter Yates. Following the concert, Hernández will discuss the works on view in “Singular Spaces.”

Thursday, April 16, 7:30 p.m.

Fowler OutSpoken Lecture: Jo Farb Hernández on Extraordinary Spanish Art Environments

Hernández will discuss her photographic survey of the elaborate fanciful art environments and idiosyncratic sculptures of self-taught Spanish artists.

Sunday, June 21, 3 p.m.

Summer Concerts on the Green: Duende Flamenco 

Duende Flamenco brings the fire of guitar, the excitement of percussion, and the beauty and passion of dance to the Fowler’s outdoor amphitheater.

The exhibit is organized and circulated by the Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery in the department of art and art history at San Jose State University. The exhibition was made possible by a grant from the Natalie and James Thompson Endowment. Additional funds for the accompanying book were provided by SPACES – Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments, Katie and Drew Gibson, the Robert and Florence Slinger Fund at the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, and an anonymous donor. The Los Angeles presentation was sponsored in part by Evelyn Meyer.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country’s most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., and on Thursdays from noon until 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $12 in Lot 4. For more information, call 310-825-4361 or visit

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