"I have one like this in Atlanta," says Elena Laverón as she walks around the workshop, with the support of the walking stick she always uses. She walks slowly, but with a firm step, as always in her life. In the background we see a small-scale version of Seated Couple, which is at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, we see a replica of the slender silhouette that stands on the Teatinos university campus and we recognise the reproduction of those marble blocks that rise from the pond in the Parque del Oeste. Her studio, which is an extension of her house, is a type of secret museum where she keeps the drawings, models and pieces of a whole life spent sculpting. "And I have had a lot of fun doing it," she admits with a smile.
She sees nothing remarkable or extraordinary about this. It's natural for her, she doesn't know anything else. But to an outsider, this place is a treasure trove, with small and large figures everywhere, created in stone, bronze, plaster and marble. There is a kiln, a machine for enamelling ceramics, a table for drawing and a large room where the moulds of the gigantic urban sculptures which stand around the world are stored in pieces. Like the immense bear that hangs from the ceiling in an image which is as impressive as it is surreal, below which she poses for this report. But Elena Laverón has not set foot in this space for quite a while.
"I'm practically retired now, I don't work much," she says. Illnesses, caring for her husband and a major pandemic are the reason why. At the age of 83 (she will be 84 in June), she doesn't have to justify this, but she does anyway: "I have the right to be lazy now," she says. "I don't make as much effort, and my conscience doesn't bother me at all," she says with great honesty and tremendous serenity.
She has spent six decades creating, since she went to the San Jorge School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, where her family had moved from Morocco. She adored that world. "I loved it so much that I couldn't understand why my siblings didn't come and study there with me," she says.
Afterwards she turned to teaching until she married and moved to Germany with her husband, the doctor Aser Seara, a man of science who was passionate about art. In the mid-1960s the couple returned to Spain, and decided to live in Malaga. "I persuaded my husband that this is where we should be. I liked it very much," she says.
She knew the city after holding exhibitions in Torremolinos and what was the Malaga Fine Arts Museum at that time, and came into contact with the group of young artists who did not conform to the dominant classicism. Eugenio Chicano, Enrique Brinkmann, Gabriel Alberca, Manuel Barbadillo, Jorge Lindell, Stefan von Reiswitz, Dámaso Ruano, Francisco Peinado... they were known as the Fifties Generation. And recognition wasn't long in coming: in 1970 she was awarded second prize in the VIII Biennial in Alexandria (Egypt) and came second at the International Biennial of Art, in Barcelona.
But she didn't associate herself with anything or anyone. "I did everything possible to be free, and in my work I achieved that," she says. She is proud of always doing things her way, outside artistic and institutional norms. And also, being a woman in a world in which "nearly all of them" were men.
"I wasn't bothered about obtaining official recognition. If they closed the door in my face, I just didn't go back," she says. And that did happen. After taking part a couple of times in the ARCO (1982 and 1988), she was brave enough to decide not to do the biggest contemporary art fair in the country any more.
"It was very politicised. Once they had upset me, I wasn't going back," she says, without expanding on the matter.
The best thing she did in her career was to think big. "I wanted to see my work in large format, even though others wouldn't see it," she says. She used to enlarge her sculptures here, in her studio at home in Churriana. "It took me a year to do some of them, I didn't have the money to pay for it," she says. But the bet paid off and those characteristic stylised figures, with movement and voids full of meaning, appealed to architects, who took her work into the street. "And then I really began to sell," she says.
She laughs when people say she was one of Malaga's first street artists. "People have no idea; sculpture is meant to be outside. In a living room it is a bother, it needs more space than a painting because it has to be seen from all sides," she explains. In 360 degrees, which is one of her strengths and a great creative challenge.
"Sometimes you have to sacrifice good bits so that it can turn and be seen properly from all angles," she says. She loves to see how people interact with her sculptures, and was delighted to find that some would sit and climb on them. "That's why I started to make them more comfortable," she says. So then she created Seated Couple, Seated Woman and Seated Family, "so that mums could sit there while their little ones ran around the park," she explains.
And then the conversation turns to motherhood. "My husband says I am so disorganised that I had babies in the wrong place," she jokes, trying to take the edge of the subject. She had two extrauterine pregnancies and a miscarriage. "Maybe if it had been in this day and age, it might have been possible," she says. But she doesn't let it get her down. "I have nephews who are like my sons and look after us," she says (they live with them). "I am honestly very content, because all my life I have had fun," she insists.
In Malaga you can follow a 'Laverón route' which starts on the Antonio Machado seafront promenade and passes the family that greets visitors outside La Rosaleda stadium, the emotive Monument to the Donors in the Plaza de la Solidaridad with its symbolic space in the heart and the Man Reclining in Three Modules that rises from the lake in the Parque del Oeste. And there are more: in the park in Huelin, the Malaga Plaza shopping centre, the Boulevard Louis Pasteur, on the Andalusian Technology Park and on roundabouts and in squares in Torremolinos, Benalmádena, Marbella and Estepona, not to mention Ceuta, Madrid, Paris and Atlanta.
Those are just the ones outside. Museums all over the world have works by Elena Laverón in their collections, from the Guggenhein in New York to the Reina Sofía, the Massachusetts Museum of Art, the Mülheim Museum in Germany, the Bag Ragaz in Switzerland, the Mexican Tuluca Museum and, of course the Museum of Malaga.
She doesn't like talking. "I can relax in small groups of people I know, but otherwise I get very nervous," she says. This is because of a slight asphasia she has had since childhood and she muddles her words when the focus is on her. That's why she has always avoided making speeches and academic events, and feels more secure in her studio surrounded by figures who don't ask her questions.
There, in her refuge, Elena Laverón reflects upon her contribution to art, the individuality in her work, with its open space and the eternal sensation of movement. "I think we all look for something through our work. I have contributed my little bit with sculptures that seem to me to be important, and that for me is sufficient," she says. And, despite everything, she admits: "I still have a lot of things pending, but I'll leave them till the next reincarnation now."
–Do you believe in reincarnation, then?
–Yes, even though Christians who refute it worship a reincarnate. But I do believe in it. There are very intelligent and very good people in this world, and others who don't know anything because they haven't learned enough on this planet.
-And which group do you belong to?
–I still have a lot to learn. But in sculpture I think I've done well.