COLLECTIBLE ART: EXVOTOS IN SEVILLA IN SPAIN TAKE THE ART WORLD BY STORM
SEVILLA is famous for its ceramic art. It’s impossible not to marvel at the ancient tiles that line the city’s churches, palaces and bars. You can learn about the history of ceramics at Centro Ceramica Triana, but for traditional ceramics with a playful modern twist, seek out The Exvotos.
Two Sevillian artists, Luciano Galán and Daniel Maldonado, work together (and talk together) as The Exvotos and take the art world by storm. Their ceramic sculptures have been salvaged by galleries and private collectors as far away as Australia, North America and Taiwan, and can be found in many private homes, public institutions, convents and churches in their hometown.
The cabeza recipientes, container heads (beautiful with a touch of kitsch), are the most requested pieces from a collection of works that uses Spain’s artistic and religious heritage as a springboard, but then goes its own way.
Galán and Maldonado have a workshop in Seville, hidden away in one of those narrow streets north of Las Setas and south of Mercado de Feria. The giant ceramic heart at the entrance, and the accents of music coming from inside – usually classical, sometimes a little Cuban, depending on whether they need to concentrate or not – give it away.
Everything inside is mesmerizing, from the reclaimed wood furniture to the terracotta headboards in various stages of gestation staring from the bookshelves. Sculptures, from laity to saints to flamenco clowns, sit beneath the kind of glass bell jars the Victorians used to display stuffed birds. “Here we call the jars fanales. We love them!”
When people enter this world, “they are delighted and we are proud. To create beautiful objects, you have to surround yourself with beauty. We’re still working on the decor, but I think you could call the look a ‘cabinet of curiosities’.
Both artists are, like their art, part serious, part funny and deeply rooted in classical tradition. Both went to the Escuela de Arte in Seville and then obtained scholarships to study abroad. Galán, who studied woodcarving, sculpture and clay modeling, traveled to Venice to learn the techniques of making Venetian masks. Maldonado, who studied ceramic painting, traveled to Lisbon to work in the restoration of 18th century ceramic art. Back in Seville in 2001, they combined their complementary skills.
“It sounds very romantic to say it, but we really are now in a situation where our life is art and our work is our life.”
The name ‘Exvotos’ comes from the tradition of offering something in thanks for divine intervention. An ex-voto can be a painting showing the miracle worker fixing a problem; a painting or statue of the helpful saint; or an object relating to the miracle itself. Over the centuries, sailors and fishermen have left models of ships and boats in churches all along the Spanish coast in thanks for coming back alive; the farmers left animal figures; and arms, legs, and torsos cut from tin or zinc were left behind by those cured of the disease. Some objects are grand, but most are folk art, humble and a bit homemade. These days, ex-votos are more likely to be casts, baby shoes, and football shirts. There is a large collection outside the Capilla del Señor de la Puerta Real in Jerez.
Folk religious art is a central influence, but the idea of ex-votos exists all over the world and predates Christianity. The famous cabezas, for example, were inspired by terracotta heads that the Romans made for their ancient gods.
Other inspirations come from theatre, opera and film: “Classic films like Cleopatra, Samson and Delilah, and Bitter Rice as well as good recent films, like Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Joker. We watch cycles of Italian, French, Japanese and, of course, Spanish cinema”. The bright and cheerful vibe of sunny southern Spain also fuels the creative mix.
Some container heads look like feria women with their painted cheeks and flower crowns. . . or fruit. The heads are hollow and can be used for flowers, and come in various sizes, the largest being around 32cm and costing €700-800. There are also bullfighters and admirals, and others inspired by Greek mythology, including a disturbing Medusa and a Neptune, the back of his head encrusted with clams and coral as a crown.
They make the popular ex-votos (“we have feet, hands, eyes… it’s funny when people ask how much an ear costs!”), and there are statues of saints, ranging from 32 at 65 cm, and from around €600. Their saints are traditional, respectful and exquisite – but also endearing and funny. Studying them closely, it is difficult to understand why. They look like the antique figurines you might see in a church or museum, but there’s something about their exaggerated hand gestures, the hint of a double chin, and the attitude of their glowing faces, that sets them apart.
They are respectful. . . but with a wink, a wink.
“On the one hand, we have a traditional background – we know the methods, the techniques of the 17th century, and the pieces we make have a gravity”, explain the artists. “On the other hand, we have a great sense of humor, and although we have enormous respect for tradition and don’t mean to offend, we like to have fun.”
The collection also includes paintings, wall hangings, candelabras, lamp stands and candlesticks on which faces and torsos emerge from the ceramic like figureheads on a ship, and collections of hand-painted plates. hand – although surely no one dares to put food on it. their? “We have customers who just keep them for decoration, but others who give lunches with our pieces,” they say, “and we eat them too!”
Everything is done by hand, from start to finish. For ceramic sculptures, this process can take up to 90 days, from pencil sketch to miniature 3D model, modeling, drying, glazing, firing, decorating and painting.
Unsurprisingly, the waiting list for private orders is long. Some assignments can be difficult: “Our strangest so far was a painted ex-voto dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe by a wonderful woman who lost her partner through the fault of her children,” they say. “We had to synthesize this story into a wooden panel.”
Galán and Maldonado work internationally, with interior designers who give them “the freedom to let our inspiration take us where it wants”. Closer to home, their patrons include the Marbella Club, where “we continue to collaborate to bring dreams to life – for example, we had an idea for a fireplace and we were able to do it there. This year we will be working in the hotel’s beach club.
You will also find their pieces in the Marbella Club shop, and on the website exvotos.com, and instagram (@theexvotos).
Visits to the studio are by appointment only. Tel +34 670 58 66 09; [email protected]