Artists Sandra Costello and Mietje Baeten. :: PRB
In spells of spring sunshine, moody skies and the pouring rain, the 6th Cómpeta Artwalk took place last weekend.
The event, designed to coincide with the end of the Easter break, brings together more than twenty artists living and working in or near the mountain town. Cómpeta, in the north eastern edges of Malaga province, is a haven for hikers and feted for its sweet muscatel wine.
The Artwalk artists come from a number of countries in Europe - Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Spain, the UK - and further afield (Chile and the USA) which reflects the fact that 35 different nationalities live in the area, making it one of the most multi-cultural communities in Malaga.
Their work was displayed over the weekend in abandoned and working shops, studios, restaurants, a museum, a hotel, the town hall and private homes. A comprehensive numbered map meant that visitors were able to negotiate their way easily around the centre of the town to reach every venue.
But this year’s Artwalk almost didn’t happen. For various reasons, after five outings, last year there was no event and this year - with former organiser Wayne Newman bowing out - it seemed unlikely too.
Enter Dutch sculptor and artist Lieuwke Loth. She only came to live in Cómpeta last August and her newcomer’s energy and tenacity brought the Artwalk back to life.
With only months to organise the event Lieuwke went into action, galvanising the local artists, locating venues and designing the all important map.
The work displayed ranges from pale impressionist watercolours to vivid oil paintings; from large and small bronze and stone sculptures to painted glass; from ceramics to woodturning to textiles.
Many of the venues had several hundred people passing through them over the weekend, clutching their maps, and enjoying the opportunity to actually meet the artists whose work they were admiring.
In her tiny traditional village house, adorned with her watercolours and bright insect prints, British painter Paula Nightingale could be heard regaling visitors once again with the story of why one of her works is called “Bonking Beetles”.
At the Hotel Balcón, which had a special menu to commemorate the event, featuring Vincent Van Gogh sandwiches and Klimt fruit salads, Lynne Alderson, who lives in Sedella, says that she is happy to witness something that involved the local Spanish community - like the hotel - as well as all the foreign residents.
As part of the Artwalk, Lieuwke and Cómpeta education centre Axareducación have organised a painting session with the town’s children and their decorated plates, on the theme “Dedication to the sun”, were displayed in every venue. “It was like a Easter egg treasure hunt because they didn’t know where their work was going to be,” Lieuwke says.
A number of artists sold work. American Lara Silaghi had been looking for a metalworker to make a commissioned piece to go over the fireplace in her new home, and was excited to finally meet Lieuwke and discuss her flowing water-inspired sculptures which mirror scuba diver Lara’s own interest in the sea.
At the top of the town, in an attractive square with a fountain and brightly-coloured front doors, the Plazoleta, Sandra Costello explained the origins of the artists’ community in Cómpeta.
It partly began, it seems, with an Englishwoman called Diana Brooke who turned her traditional townhouse into a series of individual artists’ studios which she advertised in the British press.
Sandra herself has lived in Cómpeta for over thirty years and for a long time ran popular life drawing classes. She recalls the atmosphere in the 1980s, when “Cómpeta was a crucible of writers, artists, photographers and poets”, remembering her friend, artist Scott Lidgett, who was one of the forerunners of Cómpeta’s Bohemian scene.
She is very happy, she says, that one of the neighbouring homes has been sold to renowned London artist Nahem Schoa who is planning to run scholarships in the town. But she also refers to more recent arrivals, like Lieuwke, who is carrying on the good (art) work.
One of the most striking collections of the Artwalk is a series of timely and turbulent photographs of Maiden in the Ukraine, taken by Debbie Wilkes who owns food and craft emporium Sugar and Spice.
“Believe it or not, we were there on holiday,” she says. As a sombre notice pinned besides her photographs points out, over a hundred citizens of Maiden died in fighting shortly after she and husband Andy visited.
In packed restaurant El Pilón, one of its owners, Tom Sobel, says that he had just had his best ever Sunday, thanks to Easter and the Artwalk. On the downstairs floor of his restaurant, German artist Heidi Dorsch displays her oil paintings, many of Cómpeta, with its hillside sprawl of white-walled, red-roofed buildings.
“So the art is downstairs”, wryly comments Spanish painter Manuel Lecrin, whose works are on display in the town hall and has come to have a look, “but the view is up here”, pointing to the panorama of hills and sea stretching out from the heights of Cómpeta.
The warmth of Andalucía has long drawn northern European artists and clearly Cómpeta has a thriving art scene.
When asked why she thought that was so, Gwen from the tourist office says, “They say it’s the light but the 30 or more bars in the village might have something to do with it!”