It may well be true that the sun releases people’s creative juices that are normally locked away. Or it could be that this special mixture brewing here actually anchored itself on the island thanks to all those travelers who brought all kinds of music here that we had never heard before. Whatever the causes, a curious host of artistic styles have sailed into Gran Canaria, some of them our own and others from remote outposts. Tunes and melodies from all over came and sank into the heads of sculptors, painters and architects of the island, over one century and then another.
Nearly all the monuments you’ll come across in Gran Canaria were put up after the Conquest of the island by the Castillian settlers, although there remain some real aboriginal cultural gems. The first architectural style to reach these shores would be gothic, back in the 15th century. The finest example of such is the capital’s marine façade on the Cathedral, which has overlooked the bay of the city for generations and still stands tall above the surrounding historic town centre. A remarkable undertaking for an oceanic island, especially if we consider the time in which they started its construction.
You will find a trail of other styles of religious architecture, ranging from gothic-mudejar elements of the 16th century, the Church of Saint John the Baptist of Telde, to the golden age styles of Baroque in the 17th and 18th centuries, which fused in turn with the architectural imprint left by the Mudejar Moors. The temples of Santo Domingo and San Telmo, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, are fine such examples.
Architecture in the island was now moving on by the the 19th century, helped along by the liberal thinking and part of the aristocratic society. An expression of class pride was reflected in the Gabinete Literario building, in the capital, where you can also see the modernist buildings that saw in the new century, adding colour to the city. Then when the more ordered times of rationalism arrived, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria found Miguel Martín Fernández de la Torre, the architect of the Parador de Tejeda Hotel, right at the summit of the island, and the island’s Government Cabildo building, among other works, all of which shaped the streets of the capital with straight lines.
By the end of the 20th century the city was developing some cutting edge building projects, which became overnight icons. Works such as the interior of the Centro Atlantic Centre of Modern Art, by Sáenz de Oiza, the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium, by Tusquets or the Woermann tower, by Iñaki Ábalos and Juan Herreros. These are the new symbols of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a colourful and vibrant city, which like any good port city, is ready to heed the new winds that drift in, helping to fashion a change in its appearance.
The Temple of Saint John in Telde is the main reference for those to analyze Grancanarian sculpture between the 16th and 18th centuries, forever linked to the centres of cult. You will find valuable works in a good number of religious buildings, brought in mainly from America, as at that time, and influenced by the Baroque, imports from the Indias were the all the rage.
It was José Luján Pérez (1756-1815), the religious sculptor, who led to a long line of local creators who would make the sculptural tree on the island grow. This school of artists took his name, and years later, set out on a new, different path of their own, based on Canary identity, with works by Plácido Fleitas among others. Its solid tradition goes from strength to strength, with works based on abstract concepts and industrial materials by Tony Gallardo, which would open up a new window in the 60s.It is rather like a door adjoining works by contemporary artists such as Martín Chirino, who changed abstract work for public sculpture, wrapping his Lady Harimaguada around the city’s marine water’s edge.
If you are interested in paintings from between the 15th and 18th centuries, you will no doubt be drawn to the little Hermitage of Las Nieves, in Agaete, which holds valuable flamenco pieces. We would also recommend going and seeing the Church of Saint John the Baptist with its Virgin of Guadalupe, in Arucas, to the north. Jumping forward to the beginning of the 20th century, the figure of Néstor Martín Fdez de la Torre comes to the fore, he being the greatest exponent of the island’s symbolism. You can check out most of his work in the Néstor Museum, right in the centre of the capital.
A few years further on, the School of Luján Pérez unveiled another creative step forward and brought in painters like Jorge Oramas, Santiago Santana or Felo Monzón, who participated with Lola Massieu in the Ladac Group Charity Foundation. The years following would bring a wide range of artists influenced by abstraction and eclecticism, by use of a multitude of new materials. The abstract school would triumph, with references to the Canarian scene, while works by a good number of Grancanarian painters would even be given exposure outside of the islands, with the figure of Manolo Millares being a prime exponent.