What role does art play in the world? Is it just a middle-class indulgence? Or is it something more fundamental that feeds the soul in just as important a way as food for the stomach?
Artists deserve to eat too. I don’t know any rich artists. OK they may not all be rooting through dustbins to find food, but most are barely scraping a living, and often working in low-paid part-time jobs to ensure some regular income. I would rather help them to enrich my life with a pretty, calming patio or a vibrant painting on my wall, than feed the pockets of the shareholders of Tesco, Amazon, Costa Coffee or MacDonalds. And if it’s an indulgence? Well, some will always say it is. But we don’t live by bread alone. Everyone should have an occasional treat.
So this summer Su painted the shed doors on my patio. She “sold” me a few days of her time and her talent, but what I bought from her is so much more – the patio became a quiet, pretty spot, bright with colour, a place to relax, a place to write, with flowers and butterflies to make it special. It is a treat whenever I sit there on the sofa, hand-made mosaics on driftwood above me, and Ann’s little pottery doves on the shelf. Art is all around me, enriching my home.
In the spring I had bought a watercolour of Colmenar on the “pintura rapida” day in May, and fell in love with Miguel’s paintings. His exhibition in a central-Málaga gallery was a success last month and last week I went to his workshop and art school to choose a painting. It was a gift to myself for working hard preparing for the Spanish exam.
I chose a small oil painting of Plaza de Félix Sáenz. Just as the Colmenar picture “speaks” of the village, this new one “oozes” the spirit of Málaga. It is bright, lively, colourful, and I loved it the moment I saw it. To own it, to have it in my home, is a privilege, and a treat.
Carrying the precious painting back over the footbridge over Málaga’s dry riverbed, I passed the graffiti almost without noticing. I’d read it dozens of times, and it had usually made me think. This time, with a newly-mounted and varnished piece of art under my arm, I had to detour to stare at it again. “Se gastan miles de euros en arte … Y la gente come y muere en la calle.” “They spend thousands of euros on art, and the people eat and die in the street.” Perhaps the proximity of CAC, el Centro de Arte Contemporaneo, had so angered a homeless or hungry person, he had put the effort into writing this on a wall alongside the dry riverbed. You can argue that there is no connection – in a world without art, probably there would still be people eating and dying in the street. Other people would choose something different about which to rail – “The government spends billions on weapons while people starve on the streets.” This sits more comfortably for me, yet is equally false – in a world without war, do I really believe people would not starve? It smacks of the tabloids whipping up simplistic public emotions – “Why build cycle lanes when we need more nurses?” etc etc as though public spending is as straighforward as that.
Well, whatever my own preferences for government budgets, the truth is that in this pedestrianised strip of Málaga, somebody who was presumably largely without resources, chose to create his own corner of graffiti-art complaining about government spending on art. It is near the contemporary arts centre, true. It is also adjacent to the portakabin of Los Ángeles de la Noche (the Angels of the Night), where the city’s most vulnerable people queue for food on a daily basis. I stood for a moment re-reading the spray-painted words of that angry hungry person. The oil painting under my arm represented both an indulgence and a necessity. Is it too idealistic? To want a world where everyone has food, everyone has shelter, everyone has a community to which they belong, and everyone has access to things which feed the soul and uplift the mind?
Federico García Lorca put it perfectly when he said: “Not by bread alone does man live. Were I hungry and helpless in the street I would not ask for a loaf; but for half a loaf and a book.” Easy to say, of course, when you are not starving. But he goes on: “I have much more sorrow for a man who wants to know, and can not, than for a hungry man. For a hungry man can easily satisfy their hunger with a piece of bread or some fruit, but a man who has a thirst for knowledge and no means to quench it suffers terrible agony because there are books, books, many books that he needs, and where are those books?”
Back at the car, I carefully tucked the painting safely on the back seat. In the footwell was a carrier bag of six bars of turrón and six bags of biscuits. Nudged by the memory of the grafitti, I walked back to the portakabin and handed it in, receiving a big smile from Belén, the permanently-happy volunteer who looks after the store-cupboard. Later, hanging the painting on the wall, I admire Miguel’s skill, I take pleasure in having it on my wall, and now it also has an unbreakable connection to Los Ángeles de la Noche, who meet the most basic needs of the people of Málaga who have the least.
On my Friday morning shift at the portakabin, we make the usual mountain of bocadillos (sandwiches) to hand out with cups of hot soup. Afterwards, as a bonus, there are fingers of rich turrón with nuts. The volunteers know which women have children in a hostel room, and they slip a bag of biscuits into their bags as they collect their soup. Everyone should have an occasional treat.
© Tamara Essex 2014 http://www.twocampos.com
The Artists and the Angels:
Su Derrick painted the patio doors.
She can be reached by email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Website – www.la-vaqueria.com
Facebook – La Vaqueria Benamargosa
Miguel Linares Rios painted the watercolour of the Colmenar street, and the oil painting of the plaza in Málaga. He can be reached via his Facebook page MLinaresrios.Art
Most of his works are displayed on his Facebook page, and his art school / studio can be visited by appointment by serious buyers.
The Lorca text is from “Medio Pan y Un Libro”, a speech he gave when opening the new library in his home town in Granada province full text here: http://bit.ly/1z0cl5w
Los Ángeles de la Noche feed the city’s homeless and hungry people twice a day, every day of the year. They are currently raising funds to enable people to collect a roast chicken from any of thirty rotisserie shops during the Christmas and New Year period. A 6€ donation buys a chicken and potatoes, and can be made by bank transfer to Los Angeles de la Noche (a fully-registered charity) at. UNICAJA 2103/ 3034/ 41/ 0010031355 All year round, people near Málaga can pop into Supermercado Preba, C/ Fernan Gonzalez #4 (near the German footbridge over the dry ricer bed), make a donation and receive a receipt.Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/losangelesdelanoche/timeline