He confesses that more than once he has passed his sculpture La Palera on the seafront promenade in a taxi and has asked the driver what he thinks of the enormous structure that stands in the Huelin district. And, after receiving a reply, has commented "What a jerk the artist must have been!"
Miquel Navarro likes to be provocative. And he likes dirty jokes, too, he says. Which is something that, with a poetic and metaphysical touch, is clear from his art. The CAC Malaga is currently exhibiting a retrospective of works by this painter and sculptor from Valencia, in which two constant elements stand out: the city and sex, in the sense of being a driving force for creativity and transcendence.
The show is called Dominio y Sueño, a reference to the power and imagination that characterise his works. It includes nearly 40 pieces produced from 1984 to the present day and they occupy not only the walls but also, especially, the floor. His cities of aluminium, iron, zinc and terracotta can be seen until 5 March in the main room at the CAC, like a relief map of any large urban centre in the world. They all have imposing skyscrapers like totem poles among the small pieces spread out over the space.
You can distinguish asphyxiating areas of narrow streets in marginal districts and other areas of low, perfectly aligned, houses. There is a certain realism about them, but Miquel Navarro insists that his aim was not to be critical. His objective is "poetical and lyrical, metaphysical, symbolic and metaphoric," he explains.
"I have never really believed in political art. A lot of colleagues from my time did it and were dedicated to it, but I'm not like that. I take on the whole history of art, from the caves to the avant-garde of the beginning of the century. Those are the fountains I drink from," says this artist who won the National Plastic Arts Prize in 1986.
It is a reflection of his own experience. Next year it will be 50 years since the first art-city was produced by a creator who still lives in the place he was born, Mislata, despite having had the opportunity to move to Chicago, New York or Paris. But, as he said, none of those places would have a bougainvillea with flowers all year round, like the one in the inner courtyard at his home. And from that town in Valencia, he has witnessed how his surroundings have been transformed.
"Life is a repository of experiences, of memory, of recollections. And towns are as well, we build our whole lives upon them," said Fernando Francés, the curator of the exhibition, at the inauguration. Through the metropolis, Miquel Navarro talks of "each and every one of the social vicissitudes that we in the tribe have built from prehistory to the modern day," he added.
Each town comprises dozens, hundreds of pieces. "I don't even know how many there are," the artist admitted, standing in front of Ciudad 84-85'. The zinc skyscrapers and wide avenues define the main area, surrounded by regular features in terracotta simulating the districts. This is a changing installation, set up differently in each room so it is always unique. The same applies to Monumentos y Multitud (2014), where small spiky figures gather around narrow structures of blue aluminium. The urban landscape is transformed in Marjal (2017-2018) into a rural and agricultural setting, while in Ciudad Roja (1994-1995) horizontality is imposed on verticality, the female womb, sources at the CAC have explained, opening the way for the phallic references in the tall buildings.
The phallic element is common in his work, in sculpture, painting and screen printing. For Navarro, warriors, towers and totem poles are symbols of power which he associates with masculinity. But they are not always linked to pleasure, sometimes they are presented as suffering or a battle, as in the series Batallar Caminos, Batallar con Travesía, Batallar con Escarabajo, Batallar con Mosca and Grupo de Guerreros Rojo II' (1998), with scenes of warriors fighting with their members erect.
"Battling is an everyday thing. We all have a war we have lost with someone, or an enemy suddenly jumps in unexpectedly but we have to stand up to them and fight," Navarro says.
In another set of screen prints and watercolours he portrays his desire and sexual drive through cacti reminiscent of vulvas or phalluses. And for him, this plant represents pain as well. "It's something that hurts you because it has spikes and they are painful if you touch them," he says. But there is something more, there is still hope: "It is also the metamorphosis of nature," he concludes.