ABOUT THE ARTISTS

 

JOSÉ ANTONIO MENÉNDEZ HEVIA (OVIEDO 1938) is an Asturian designer known for his work in the field of interior design and construction, as well as the very broad field of industrial design. We are talking about a volume of approximately 2,500 interior spaces, not counting the numerous objects of design he has authored in the fields of furniture, lighting and automotion, to name a few examples.1

Although it is his facet as a designer that is the best known, he has always been connected to the art world as a patron of painters and sculptors, supporting artists like Navascués, Fernando Alba, Antonio Suárez and Alejandro Mieres, among others. He has participated actively in the circles of avant-garde art, always leaning towards contemporary and abstract work. The revolutionary galleries Tassili (1970) and Vértice (1990) are among his well-known works of interior design. He has often included works by renowned artists, preferably from Asturias, in public facilities that he designed and built. He has always been a great believer of works of art being present in everyday life and of direct interaction between art and the average person.

Menéndez Hevia did not just acquire avant-garde artworks, he also took part in the creation of murals and sculptures − outside of his usual design activity − with purely artistic motivation and without falling into formalism. As a figure he can be considered something of an artist of humanism, a paradigm of the polymathy typical of the Renaissance man, but in the context of modernity, with which he has always had a consistent and scrupulously respectful relationship.

One of his most significant works is the mural of the construction company Los Álamos (1967), located at Calle General Zubillaga, an allegory of the trades and construction in stone and bronze. Although he gradually added small pieces of his own creation to numerous public works, such as a sculpture for the façade of the Viajes Ecuador (1975) building in Madrid, it was not until 1998 that he again took on a large sculptural project, the mural presiding over the main hall of the Principality of Asturias government building. This also entailed his introduction into the world of contests, where his resumé was filled with the enormous amount of design work he has done during his career. The mural of the Chamber is a work of great technical complexity, a multi-ton sculpture in which chemical components were used to create all the shades of colour present in Asturian land: various tones of green, gold, blue, etc. An allegorical work about Asturias that makes use of technology, with reference to mines in the special shoring sections that hold the three bronze plates. Despite its industrialized character, Menéndez Hevia has always defined it as a work of pure craft, full of nuances.

In childhood he showed great aptitude for drawing, a talent that was reinforced by those around him. In 1957, his family, many members of which were engaged in construction-related trades, encouraged him to study architecture in Madrid. In the capital he soon began to realize that he wanted to focus his career in other directions; nevertheless he remained there for one year, alternating his studies with some work as an illustrator for newspapers and other publications. Notable from this period are his illustrations of Don Quixote. He made the most of his time in Madrid to learn from the great masters in the Prado Museum, while receiving technical drawing classes at the academy of López Izquierdo. A classical education for a revolutionary artist.

JA-drawingOn his return he signed up for a tour through various craft and industry-related workshops. It was there that the artist and designer became familiar with materials and techniques, discovering the intimacy and magic of the workshop. Whenever possible he maintained that physical space linked to his studio, wanting to see this as an extension of the atelier, a place to unravel the magic of objects and learn about the process of creation, from the earliest analyses to its final conception. This part of his work greatly influenced his artistic activity, where we always find a reminder of industrial techniques, their procedures, aesthetic conditions and abstract qualities.

In his professional world, the connection with the arts sphere never ceased; it is an intrinsic and parallel exercise to his production as a designer and interior architect, since he always defended the integration of these areas, as did the long line of Asturian architects who preceded him. His production has had a markedly public character, and is closely linked to the social impact of spaces devoted to consumption during the decades of Spain’s modernization; works for banks, big chains and small shops, hotel businesses, professional offices and private clinics, museums and galleries.2

We will always find his name associated with the Diher company, a full-service construction company that was founded at the same time as his professional activity, in the early 1960s. The peak of his production was the 1970s, when he was responsible for many of the projects related to the expansion of private banking in Spain. In 1970s, he created Bureau70, linked to the marketing of designer furniture and small format artwork from renowned artists, especially from the Spanish abstract art movement of the 50´s/60´s “El Paso”. That same year Concepto70 was born, a multidisciplinary laboratory linked to the realization of projects and inspired by the Bauhaus. Concepto70 became the first company that had a sculptor, Fernando Alba, as a regular staff member.

In 1995, after the intense experience that took place in the last stage of Bureau70, which lasted six years, he started to work as a freelancer. Although he continued to be linked to design, as shown by his creations for Ornalux, a growing dedication to painting became evident. Around this time he moved from Oviedo to Gijón, where he continued his journey until 2003 when, through the agency of an employee, he met the Norwegian artist Nina Grønn. In the story that brought them together there is a component of serendipity. After seeing several of her drawings and illustrations, since the work of Grønn consisted mainly of small-format graphic work, he decided to meet her. With no previous references of the artist, he decided to purchase eleven of her monotype prints. At that time, Grønn had been residing in Spain for two years, working as an illustrator. Shortly thereafter, the meeting between the two took place.

 

Nina-drawing

NINA GRØNN was born in New York in 1974. Her parents, of Norwegian origin, decided to return to their home country in 1985, settling in Oslo. Grønn always showed an adventurous nature, beginning to travel in her early twenties across Latin America, Australia and Asia. In 1997, back in Norway, she moved to the northwest coast, to the city of Aalesund. In 1999 the professors of Aalesund Art School discovered her talent, admitting her as a student despite the fact that she had no previous training. There she coincided with other Norwegian artists of her generation such as the painter Camilla Grythe, with whom she has maintained a friendship since 1995. During the autumn of 2001 she made her first foray into Spain where she did work as an illustrator for the Museum of Maria Pita in La Coruña, of medical books for the MIR courses and images for some of the language books published by Cambridge University.

Grønn begins attending classes at the studio that Menéndez Hevia had in the port of Gijón in the winter of 2003, commuting every day from Oviedo. Despite the concentration and the silence of the atmosphere of Menéndez Hevia’s studio, those afternoons strengthened their friendship and planted the seed of a common project based on painting.

Beyond that common project, at the root of their artistic aspirations, they are united by their interest in making use of nature in their works. The painting shows that there is a great deal of methodology implicit in it, a comprehensive emphasis on the process. For this reason, the relationship of their work with nature is also seen to be the result of a trance, an initiation ritual that began with a trip. From 2004 to 2005, they travelled all over the peninsula in a caravan in order to do fieldwork, as something like a grand tour. This direct and prolonged contact represents the starting point of a working system that is based on the processing of the piece of art in the studio, during long joint sessions. To understand their work we must appreciate the repeated organic component, learning to see the myriad of background images with direct correspondence with nature and its forms.

Since 2003 Menéndez Hevia has reduced his activity in his various undertakings so that he can focus on his passion, painting. This is something that, in his words: “he has been waiting for all his life.” These eleven years of working together have resulted in over five hundred abstract works, a frenetic task considering the level of detail achieved in each one of them. It is a very introspective work, in which the strong personality of both has not prevented the intermingling of their consciousness, so that we can see their spectra manifested in their respective paintings.

 

 In Tampere, Monday, October 18th, 2013

Aida Puente Toraño

Department of Art History and Musicology, University of Oviedo

Translated by María de la Fuente Latorre

Footnotes:

1A doctoral thesis about the figure of Menéndez Hevia will be deposited at the beginning of  next year and is expected to be read in March of 2016. It is entitled: “Jose Antonio Menéndez Hevia: design and interior, from 1958 to the present.”A number of articles have also been published on Menéndez Hevia’s career: PUENTE TORAÑO, Aida, “José Antonio Menéndez Hevia: designer, interior architect and specialized builder” in Decoración de interiores. Firms, trading houses and design in Asturias 1880-1990, Ana María Fernández García (Coord.), Oviedo: Septem ediciones, 2011, p.173-217 and PUENTE TORAÑO, Aida, “Office furniture design set: Sintex (1965-1977)”, in Mobilis Res: revista internacional de investigación en mobiliario y objetos decorativos, vol. 2, no. 2, 2013, p.83-105.

2 Menéndez Hevia was named Member of Honour of the Professional Association of Interior Designers of Asturias in 2009, in recognition of his entire career.