Mourning Francisco González Gragera, Creator of Spain’s Capricho de Cotrina
SPACES is sad to share the news of the death of Francisco González Gragera, creator of one of Spain’s most important art environments, the Capricho de Cotrina, located in the western autonomous community of Extremadura (Badajoz). Gragera passed away on September 19, 2016; he was 90 years old. We send our warmest condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time
Although González began his elaborate project to build a country home for himself and his family in 1988, he was forced to stop several times – sometimes for years at a time – as a result of municipal mandates to halt construction, as his whimsical art environment did not conform to local urban codes or permit requirements, let alone architectural expectations. While he was not forced to demolish his work, neither was he given permission to continue to explore his aesthetic interests. Finally, in 2011, a new administration was elected and he was given the go-ahead to begin work anew, which he did with gusto, finessing existing components and adding new ones in the house as well as surrounding gardens, working without written plans and no formal training in architecture, engineering, or art.
In contrast to the products of his decades-long vocation–flat marble and granite floors, façades, and even sober geometrically rectilinear headstones–his architectural/sculptural Capricho flamboyantly celebrates the curve. Sinuous lines and organic contours characterize González’s sculpture and architecture, and even the footprints of the house and garden structures rarely, if ever, manifest a straight line. The curvilinear essence of the construction is not related to the topography, as the site is generally flat; rather, it reveals the emphasis the artist placed on unapologetically celebrating the fluidity of form.
González’s Capricho, surely, was linked to aesthetic fantasy and his personal aspirations. It also links to the natural and man-made worlds: local topography and vegetation are well-represented, but so too are the fruits of the local laborers–the olives, the grapes, the sunflowers, the wheat, and even the acorns that are eaten with such gusto by the hogs that will be processed into the renowned jamón serrano. Yet beyond this his architectural whimsy was also tinged with painful memories, represented by the small loaf of bread that symbolizes those postwar years of starvation across Spain and the deprivations of the wars. His sensitivity to those events–viscerally understood at both an individual and a cultural level–coupled with his personal campaign to prove to others that he was worthy, that he was special, also underlay his impetus for construction. He was working for himself and his family, but also to share his efforts, his aesthetics, and what he believed to be important with others, passersby and locals alike.
“Imagination can’t be purchased,” González affirmed. And giving free rein to those images of his imagination, he worked intuitively and improvisationally until the end, to, as he declared, make “the magic of dreams become reality.”
Having worked with and documented González’s Capricho de Cotrina from 2002 to 2016, I devoted a chapter with full description and analysis of his work in my 2013 book Singular Spaces: From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments.
-- Jo Farb Hernández