Francisco Subirà i Bertran
Vilarnadal, Catalonia, 17762, es
Most of the exterior works remain visible from the street.
About the Artist/Site
Born in the small village of Pardines in the Pyrenean Ripollès region of northern Catalunya, Francisco and his family moved to Vilarnadal when the young boy was eight. In the Alt Empordà region, this small village was not as isolated as Pardines, located just north of the city of Figueres and only 13 miles from the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, it was also quite primitive in its amenities: no running water and no electricity anywhere in town. The daughter died of tuberculosis; when Francisco was 14, his mother also succumbed, with his brother a few years after that. People began to avoid contact with Francisco and his father, for fear that they, too, would contract the disease; this was also the end of his formal schooling. Although he later married, he and his wife were unable to have children.
Francisco, known as Paquito, worked as a shepherd for over forty years. When he retired, he sold off their animals, but he was restless, and needed something to do in his free time. One day, studying the jaw bone of a pig’s cheek after he had eaten the meat, he remembered seeing some beautiful sculptures in a book that a friend had lent him years before, and he decided to try to sculpt. Starting with iron wire, he formed figures of the animals, birds, and flora of the region, but also of dancers, mermaids, and fantastic creatures of myth and legend. Rounding out an infrastructure of wire rod with metal screening and securing it with plastic wrap, he then covered the whole with concrete, sometimes adding colors with dry pigments to the final white coat for highlights. Setting up a little studio just down the block from his home, where he had kept some of his rabbits, chicken, and sheep, he would work in stages as he was able, resting in between. Dividing his days between his vegetable garden and his sculptures—and spending more time on the latter during the winter, when the garden work was not as demanding—he steadfastly pursued the images that came to him, generally more intent on finishing the pieces than in their perfect realization. If something did not work at all, he would throw it out, but other works in which he miscalculated he just accepted and moved on.
Working in his studio, he created over eighty individual pieces, some of them fairly monumental in size and weight, much bigger than human scale. Many of the freestanding works are just barely three-dimensional, often not more than four to six inches deep, although they might stretch up past six feet in height. He worked persistently and with focus, concentrating on one piece at a time. He first installed the figures in the little yard in front of where he kept his animals, the other side of the street from his house, but later, running out of room, he began adding them to the corral down the street, in front of his studio.
Subirà created two very different bodies of work. Many of the works are simply concrete covering a wire infrastructure, perhaps painted or inlaid with simple rocks or shells. And although he continued to work in this simpler, unornamented vein throughout, he also began to create works with more extensive ornamentation: numerous figures—primarily, although not exclusively, those located in the lower yard outside of what used to be his studio—show an innovative use of a wide variety of found objects: among other materials, these assemblage works include wire, rope, netting, glass and plastic bottles, roots, nails, broomsticks, straws, sticks, brushes, wire, shells, tin cans, clothespins, and coins.
In the fall of 2005, as they were aging, they sold their properties, moving into an assisted-living facility just southwest of Figueres. The people who bought the house promised to keep and care for the sculptures, and, to date, they have been doing so. Most of the exterior works remain visible from the street.
~Jo Farb Hernández
Map & Site Information
Vilarnadal, Catalonia, 17762 es
Latitude/Longitude: 42.341789 / 2.952911
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