The Painted Forest of Oma reopens in 2023
After two years of meticulous work promoted by the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and carried out by a multidisciplinary team from the University of the Basque Country led by Professor Fernando Bazeta, one of the most impressive works of land-art in the world has been restored to its splendour.
It offers a unique experience that links avant-garde art and nature. The Painted Forest of Oma is very close to one of the main centres of prehistoric expression and religiosity preserved on the Cantabrian coast: the Cave of Santimamiñe. How fortuitous is that?
Throughout the first half of the 1980s, the painter, sculptor and art theorist Agustín Ibarrola (Basauri, 1930) produced a work of enormous impact in a pine forest near the farmhouse where he lived, in the Oma area. A valley located in the municipality of Kortezubi, hidden inside the Urdaibai biosphere reserve.
“The first painting I made in the forest was a white stripe. Why a white stripe? Because when I found myself in a space that is not a flat surface, nor a succession of more or less articulated layers, I realised that the first thing I had to master was the relationship between three-dimensional and two-dimensional spatial concepts. So I made a line, inverting Renaissance perspective”,he explains on his website Agustin Ibarrola.
Ibarrola, whose career was linked to the working-class movement, industry and iron, started from this “white stripe” to complete an artistic work that generated a polychrome world of apparent totems that composed perspectives that complemented each other. Fascinating. In the heart of nature. Little by little it became a point of pilgrimage. First, for people from the region. Later, from Bizkaia. All over the Basque Country. And from all over the world.
The forest, which was initially very rustic, adapted over time to visitors. Recently, however, its hillside location and the poor health of the pines themselves, made it necessary to take some precautions.
The Provincial Council of Bizkaia, with the help of a multidisciplinary team led by UPV-EHU professor Fernando Bazeta, has made it possible to conserve and transfer Agustín Ibarrola’s magical forest to a very close and safe place that is open to visitors.
The Bosque de Oma used over 700 healthy trees to give life to the 33 groups of trees that Ibarrola originally conceived. The new location makes it possible to present a project that reflects the artist’s original idea, as some of the groups take on a larger dimension, something that Agustín Ibarrola was unable to do at the time. The Bosque de Oma houses all the documented artistic ensembles that have existed in the forest.
It is not a copy, the process has consisted of transferring Agustín Ibarrola’s idea to a new, larger canvas, where it is brought to the surface once again with recovered and more extensive artistic ensembles.
Harmless paint has been used and the same type of pigments used by the artist have been respected. In addition, the Forest is sustainable because the periodic care of the plant element has been adapted to the biological rhythm of the forest and respects the original vegetation.
At the same time, each of the trees will be individually monitored and has a safety system to act in case of fire or to react in emergency situations.
In addition, so that visitors have a pleasant experience along the kilometre-long artistic route, the paths have been fitted out with an ecological substrate made of shredded pine and cypress bark, and there are rest areas. There are also signs at the points where visitors should stand in order to appreciate each artistic ensemble. No one will have any connectivity problems.
“It is stimulating and playful to be charged with sensual, visual and aesthetic energy when contemplating the paintings in the forest and to be able to construct one’s own plastic space just by moving around. In a landscape, everything from history to cultural or mythological beliefs come into play. I don’t have formulas for spatial connections because sometimes spaces are loaded with concepts that are not strictly geometrical. When you work with nature, the concepts that come to be mixed together are enormously complex,”said the artist of his Forest.
A magical forest in a magical region
Kortezubi is located, as we have already mentioned, very close to the prehistoric cave of Santimamiñe, renowned for its painted horses and buffaloes. A few kilometres away from the historic town of Gernika; a few minutes from Mundaka and its world-famous left wave; close to the hermitage and viewpoint of San Pedro de Altxarre; and not far from the Reef Tuning or Gallery-Observatory of Art and Nature created in the Geranda de Ereño quarry.
Not to mention the bird observatory, the spectacular estuary itself and its beaches, the Roman and pre-Roman remains at Forua and Arrola or the numerous txakoli wine cellars and sensational restaurants and taverns.
Agustín Ibarrola, art and commitment
Aged 93, he is one of the great living artists. His name and work are linked in the mid-20th century to those of Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida. With the Duarte family and Juan Serrano, he founded Equipo 57 in Paris. He suffered the repression of the Franco dictatorship in all its forms. His work evolved towards social painting and expressionism. He held international exhibitions and his work began to be acquired by museums.
His works in public spaces include The Forest of Totems, at Príncipe Pío Station in Madrid; Wave to the Rhythm of Txalaparta, at Chamartín Station in Madrid; Journey to Infinity, at Abando Station in Bilbao; and the Cubes of Memory in the port of Llanes (Asturias).
He resides in his farmhouse in Oma, after also having resisted pressure from the ETA milieu.
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