Archive for August, 2009

Joya. artists residency / no. 1 Rebecca Fortnum

reb drawing 4“The studio at Los Gazquez is beautiful.  The atmosphere changes with the weather.   Sitting in the space, viewing the low clouds floating through the mountains, or birds of prey circling high over-head, is an absorbing experience.  Without wishing to be too existential about it, it is a time to re-order priorities.

The residency mission - to make work that responds to this unique setting - can be interpreted in many different ways, from working ‘en plein air’, or directly with the land, to (as in my case) choosing materials and ways of working that chime with the sense of scale that the studio provokes.  As it is wind and solar powered, the whole of Los Gazquez energises itself through the environment, and this provides a metaphor for the creative endeavour of the studio.

I know that my time at Loz Gasquez will stay with me long after I have returned to London it has shifted my thinking and making”.

Rebecca Fortnum 2009

reb drawing 2

Rebecca Fortnum is currently Reader in Fine Art at University of the Arts, London ( where she runs the MA Fine Art programme. Rebecca has been a visiting fellow in painting at Plymouth University and at Winchester School of Art, a visiting artist at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a senior lecturer at Norwich and Wimbledon Schools of Art. From 2004-9 she was Research Fellow at Lancaster University where she led the Visual Intelligences Research Project, that explored how artists think and make (

She has received several awards including from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the British Council, the Arts Council of England, the British School in Rome and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She has exhibited widely including solo shows at the Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, Spacex Gallery, Exeter, Kapil Jariwala Gallery, London, Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, The Drawing Gallery, London and Shropshire ( and Gallery 33, Berlin ( She was instrumental in founding the artist-run spaces Cubitt Gallery and Gasworks Gallery in London. Her book of interviews, Contemporary British Women Artists, in their own words, was published by IB Tauris in 2007.

In 2007 Rebecca was a recipient of the Art House’s Space for 10 award for mid-career artists ( and was also lead international artist for the TRADE project in Roscommon & Leitrim, Ireland ( She is currently taking part in METHOD, a cultural leadership programme for artists (

reb drawing 1rf interior studio


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Old Ways of Life

cortijo pozo moreno

I called today, Saturday, at the cortijo of Tomas, brother of Pepe. Cortijo Pozo Moreno, it translates as dark well. He and his family no longer live here, they have modern houses in Velez Blanco with bathrooms and T.V.s.

Cortijo Pozo Moreno leans against the ruin of it’s former bread oven and folds backwards into the hill side it is built upon. Tomas extols it’s virtues. Cold and quiet. The two virtues most rare in modern Spain. Originally the cortijo of their uncle, Pozo Moreno is used as a refuge to the old ways of life. With his sons they now hunt wild boar from here and red legged partridge. When autumn comes they cook chorizo on the embers of the open fire whilst drinking a beer or a glass or two of wine. Tomas rocks the cradle in the corner, ‘my cradle’ he says with pride.

A definitive ‘no thank you’ from me is my practiced way of politely declining a cold beer at eleven in the morning. Sure I want to integrate, but I can’t go that far. Instead I enquire why and when were all these farms abandoned. ‘Sometime in the eighties’, came the reply.

Now I always assumed that it was the fascist dictator Franco and his evil suppression of dissident views, his use of coercion and censorship, torture and prison camps that was responsible for this empty countryside. After all where is one most likely to find the ferment of unrest but in the poor and left wing inclined campo. So if these people wanted to go to France, as many did, and work in the vineyards that’s fine. If they wanted to find work in the factories of the industrialised Barcelona or Zaragoza that’s OK too. How better could a de facto regent control his subjects other than to let them voluntarily expel themselves or willingly enter themselves to a bonded and non unionised labour force.

But hang on, Franco died in 1975 and they re-wrote the constitution in 1978 bringing democracy. This is possibly four or five years before the granjeros upped sticks from here. Obviously the lure of greater financial rewards from working elsewhere proved too much for many here. Yet Tomas and most of the other residents of the Comarca de Los Velez are so proud of their region, it’s culture and traditions, why were they so keen to go?

Tomas and I surveyed the barranco (small fluvial system or brook) in front of the cortijo. We examined the ruins of the balsa (irrigation tank) and we traced the ruins of the acequia (irrigation canal). Through the terraced and contoured hill side Tomas spoke of the potatoes they used to grow. Tomatoes, salad, vegetables. The pigs they kept, the sheep and goats, the rabbits for the pot. Pomegranate, chestnut, quince, olives, apricots and pears. Grapes for the table and grapes for the wine. Grain from the fields to bake the bread. Strong and straight white beams of the poplar for building their houses and the houses of their sons when they brought a young wife back up the mountain.

We walked back to the cortijo, I chewing on a dry blackberry, to the the cool of it’s interior away from the hot sun. ‘So what happened here’, I asked, ‘why did everyone leave these mountains?’

‘It stopped raining’ came the reply. Tomas went on, ‘the dark well, the Pozo Moreno, could fill a 20,000 litre balsa in 24 hours. Summers are always hot and dry here but the winter brought snow and the spring plenty of rain. But now, although it still snows and rains, there is not enough to keep these wells productive not enough to feed a family. The climate changed and it’s getting drier’.

‘Here’ he says ‘this bottle of wine is for you. It’s from Cordoba’.

‘Thank you’ I reply, ‘White wine, is it sweet or dry?’

‘Try it’ he replies instantly pouring me a glass. I have no choice. He has got me. No matter how strong my resolve was not to waste the day induced by the sleepiness of alcohol (a lifelong rule on my part) he had got me. It’s fortified too.



Richard Elliott - New Work Back in London



The Crossing…

la sagra from SW

…of the alto plano brings us to the foot of the mighty ‘Sagra’. My poetic vanity chooses me to deduce ‘sagra’ as being a corruption of ‘sagrado’ or sacred. After all these Andalucians do drop the ends of most words, or maybe I have spent too much time in India.

Anyway for those who know my blog the name will be familiar as every evening, at Los Gazquez, we sit and watch the sun set behind this mighty mountain. At about 2360m above sea level and normally covered in snow I think this should be my autumn challenge.

Anyone want to join me?

P.S. Apologies to Cormac McCarthy for corrupting the titles of his trilogy in the last three of my blogs.



Pueblos of the Plain

sagra reservoirA wise bear knows that in August, in the heat, a sirocco wind tears up the coast from the deserts of Africa, and the beach is possibly the worst place to be. These people who live in the cities of Spain empty into the sea at this time of year. Desperate for the cool waters by day and the cool air of the night these families of foxes and owls party the month away on the coast, the last refuge of humanity.

But go west from Los Gazquez, across the high plains, the alto plano, past Maria and Orce to Huescar and beyond into the folded peaks of limestone with the evocative names of Buitre, La Cabrilla, Tornajuelos and the mighty Sagra and you will come to cool, blue reservoirs. Not just one but a few, splashed into the recesses of the Parque National Segura y Cazorla.

The beaches are deserted save for the odd heron, a mirror carp digging for minerals. Swap gulls for griffons casting shadows across your beach towels, reach to the mountain peaks for ice to cool your drinks and swim in the still cool waters of these man made lakes, sin olas, sin mareas.



All the Spotty Horses

sol on horsebackThursday saw us riding horses. At least the children that is. Sollie and Sesame and their friends from London, Maddy and Loulou.

Beyond Velez Rubio in the hot and desert like  summer dry almond groves, walking up the rambla through the undulating silver grey hills of schist, there resides a stable. A German stable of rather special horses.

But schist you say! Yes the name for the splintered  rocks beneath our feet so easily broken. The name comes from the Greek ‘to split’ and is probably where we get ‘schism’ from too.

And the prized spotty horses? Knabstrupper or just Knabstrup are a Danish breed, originated from the famous Spanish prehistoric spotted horses, and are one of the oldest breed registries in Europe.

Legend has it that a Danish butcher called Flaeb bought the horse from a Spanish cavalry officer. The mare called Flaebenhopper (Flaeb’s mare) was sold to Major Villiars Lunn who owned an estate called Knabstrupgaard in Holbaek.

Anyway the story goes on and you can read it here.

badgeOur host (and I should get my facts perfect first really) is a top breeder of the variety both here in the Comarca Los Velez and in Germany. Her house, decorated with rosettes as it is, is testimony to the success she has had with a dying breed.

It will be my turn next, on a modern saddle too. Maybe I’ll wait for that almond blossom to come out in February and I can take some photos at the same time.

If you fancy a visit to the stables give me a shout and I shall be happy to return.



Joya / a residency for artists working within transition culture



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Rainwater Harvesting at Los Gazquez in Action (a film by Dick)



Permaculture Rainwater Harvesting



Land Systems @ Los Gazquez

land-systemsHere at Los Gazquez we have a new scheme, an experiment with the techniques of Permaculture.

If you have never heard of Permaculture it is basically a design system for human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in the natural ecology. It was conceived in Australia in the 1970′s by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison.

Their idea was to rapidly train individuals in a core set of design principles and then those individuals could go off and design their own self sufficient communities which wouldn’t rely on industrial systems which were exhausting the earth’s resources.

For our purposes we intend to use Permaculture water harvesting techniques to revive a dried up well. And the aim is to do this without resorting to ‘bore holes’ to find a more abundant water supply, but to create a water supply by the subtle exploitation of gradient and organic mulches.

The red dot in the centre of the drawing is the old dry pozo or well. It is a covered structure with a door and is about four meters deep. Below the well is the balsa or small reservoir to which one once would have deposited the water taken from the well. The acequia is the canal system introduced by the Moors to Spain and is used to transport the water from the balsa to the terraces below (or growing zones).

To start we are going to restore the fabric of the pozo and clear the old balsa of vegetation and undergrowth. Crucially this organic material is not going to be lost but kept for using as mulch.

Next, above the pozo we are going to dig a series of swales, indicated in purple. A swale is an English word to describe a low or hollow place or marshy depression between ridges. The  swales will vary depending on the topology of the area and will vary in width and length but the depth will be in the region of 800 to a 1000 mm. The interior walls will be supported by dry stone walls. To the lower side of the swale a large mound of organic material, collected when clearing the land for the project, will be placed.

The idea is that when scarce rainfall does occur the swale fills with water. Being on a gradient the captured water will sink into the earth. However and crucially, the mulch on  the downside of the gradient will act as a sponge, gently supporting the water table being created beneath it nearer the surface. The principle is that the two fold action of the mulch is to support a water table beneath the surface by osmosis and  to severely reduce evaporation from the surface.

In time a water table should establish itself and ultimately feed the old well again. And in turn we can fill the balsa and use the acequia to  irrigate the terraces below and start growing organic crops for the house.

It sounds so easy I know, but this is an experiment and I shall make this an on going column on my blog with it’s own page.


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