César Manrique Cabrera was born on April 24, 1919 in Puerto Naos, Arrecife (Lanzarote). His father was a food merchant and his grandfather a notary public. César preceded his twin sister Amparo by just a few minutes. The Manriques constituted a typical middle class family. In 1934, his father bought a lot in Caleta de Famara and built a house next to the ocean. This house left a visible impression that lasted his lifetime, he remembered with joy: " My greatest happiness is to recall a happy childhood,five month summer vacations in the Caleta and the Famara beach with its eight kilometers of clean and fine sand framed by cliffs of more than four hundred meters high that reflected on the beach like in a mirror. That image has been engraved in my soul as something of extraordinary beauty that I will never forget in all of my life."
He participated as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War on Franco's side. His experience of the war was atrocious and he refused to talk about it. In the summer of 1939, once the war was over, César returned to Arrecife. He returned still wearing his military uniform. After greeting his mother and siblings, he went up on the flat roof, took off his clothes, agrily stepped over them, sprayed them with petroleun and burned them.
At the end of the Spanish Civil War, he entered the La Laguna University to study Technical Architecture, which he would abandon after two years. In 1945 he travelled to Madrid and entered with a scholarship, to the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where he would graduate as Art Professor and painter. This was where he met Pepi Gómez, his future wife who died in 1963.
In the Fall of 1964, following the advice of his cousin Manuel Manrique, a New York Psychoanalyst and writer, César traveled to that city where he stayed until the summer of 1966. He was the guest of Waldo Diaz-Balart, a Cuban painter, who lived in the Lower East Side, at the time, a neighborhood of artists, journalists, writers, and bohemians. Later he was able to obtain through his cousin Manuel's friendship with the Director of the Institute of International Education, which was sponsored by Nelson Rockfeller a generous grant which allowed him to rent his own studio and produce a number of paintings which he exhibited with success in the prestigious New York gallery "Catherine Viviano".
While in New York, he would write his friend Pepe Dímaso "(...) more than ever I feel true nostalgia for the real meaning of things. For the pureness of the people. For the bareness of my landscape, and for my friends (...) My last conclusion is that MAN in N.Y. is like a rat. Man was not created for this artificiality. There is an imperative need to go back to the soil. Feel it, smell it. That's what I feel." He began to feel nostalgia for Lanzarote.
" When I returned from New York, I came with the intention of turning my native island into one of the more beautiful places in the planet, due to the endless possibilities that Lanzarote had to offer. ".
And this is the present reality: It is impossible to imagine Lanzarote as it stands today without César Manrique. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, ecologist, monument preserver, construction advisor, planner of urban developments, outliner of landscapes and gardens.
Those who knew Manrique only superficially ignored the load of puritanism that ruled his conduct. Manrique was really a frugal man, he didn't drink, didn't smoke and didn't allow others to smoke next to him, he regularly went to bed very early and got up at dawn, and began work in his studio very early.
He died at the age of 73 in a tragic car accident, on the 25 of September 1992, next to the Fundación, near Arrecife. The irony of fate had it that he would encounter death in a car accident, as he loathed the massive amount of vehicles.
César was quoted as saying "For me Lanzarote is the most beautiful place on earth, then I made it a point to show Lanzarote to the world". He dedicated his life and work into ensuring that Lanzarote was not overdeveloped as some of the other Canary Islands.
There is a stunning text and superb colour photo hardback you should check out called Fundacion Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote (Opus)