The Costa de la Luz as its name suggests “The Coast of Light” has always been a huge attraction to photographers and artists who simply fall in love with the light and clarity that is part and parcel of this area.
Ayamonte has charmed its fair share of artists over the last century and Sorrolla’s “La pesca de atún”, tuna fishing, depicting sailors landing tuna on the banks of the Guadiana River, is probably one of the best known paintings to have come out of this border town. It seems only fitting that we talk to a son of a sailor and one of the most famous present day artists in Ayamonte, Rafael Oliva.
M: Many of our readers will already know your work, with some of your paintings on show in Parador Hotel Ayamonte and of course the paintings in Ayamonte town hall but few will know the beginnings of Rafael Oliva. When did you start painting?
R: I have always painted and in school “La Merced” I used to draw on the blackboard, using coloured chalk, whatever the teacher asked me, I was pretty good at writing and liked using gothic style letters.
M: You left school at an early age?
R: Like a lot of people at the time, I left school at the age of 12 and had my first job running errands for Ayamonte Football Club and I helped the team physiotherapist. Ayamonte FC were in the provincial league and I remember going to away matches in Bollullos, which is what? some 90 kilometres away, but I felt I was travelling the width of Spain. Sure I even wanted the players to get injured so I could run on the pitch following the physio with the first aid box to impress the women in the crowd.
M: No art college for you then, did you still paint while you were working for Ayamonte FC?
R: That’s right, I taught myself and learned from my mistakes. One of the Directors of Ayamonte FC, Juan Moreno offered me a job in his clothes shop in Ayamonte and I jumped at the opportunity. It meant that I would finish at 8pm rather than after 11 in the club and I could now go to the cinema, my other great passion.
M: You have done posters for some of the local film festivals?
R: Yes, although it is something quite different from my normal work. I did the poster for the XVII Iberoamerican Film Festival in Huelva in 1991 and Islantilla Film Festival in 2003. I am huge cinema fan, so much so that once I took a bus to Seville to see the film “Ryan’s daughter” starring Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles and had to stay the night in a hostel before getting the bus back in the morning.
M: I always meet you walking around in Ayamonte but I have never seen you driving, Is there any truth that you don’t have a driving licence although you own a beautiful vintage car.
R: Never got a driving license and my good wife drives me everywhere as well as that it ia always nice to take a stroll through Ayamonte and not need a car.
M: It wasn’t until 1975 that you had your first major exhibition in Madrid, what was Rafael Oliva doing before that?
R: I worked in the shop for 15 years and although I was head of the menswear section many people came into the shop to order pieces of art. Just around the corner from the shop I had a small studio where I would go after the shop was closed to paint and exhibit my paintings. It was a local priest who let me use the studio to paint. It was my own clients who eventually pushed me out of the clothes shop telling me I should dedicate all of my time to art. My wife who was pregnant at the time with my daughter was fully behind me so I packed 7 of my paintings and took the train to Madrid, not really knowing what to expect.
M: Your first exhibition in Madrid was in Galeria Verona on Calle Bernardo Nº18 and you sold 19 of the 23 paintings that unbelievable for a relatively unknown Huelva artist at the time.
R: A small town painter in Madrid city with a young pregnant wife at home, I knocked on every gallery door and it was José Luis Mazuelo from Galeria Verona who gave me the opportunity. As luck would have it, a space which was reserved for a painter from Valencia came available and my first major exhibition opened a month later.
M: So even an established artist like you needs a bit of luck?
M: A lot of things have changed since then and talking about money is never nice but can you tell me what the first painting you sold and how much you sold it for?
R: I’ll never forget it, as it was a few painting that a local Ayamonte person asked me to paint. There were various painting with lemons, an earthenware jar and an oil painting of La Villa neighbourhood. I sold the lot for 2100 pesetas, a little over twelve euros in today’s money. It was money for my wedding and my friends and I had a good drink the night I got paid.
M: Your last exhibition was called “Carretera y Manta” which in English translates to “Road and Blanket” but used in an expression means the start of a journey. The exhibition which was held in La Ermita de San Sebastian, La Villa neighbourhood was huge success; I had to queue both times I visited (first when it opened and the second time when I returned with my wife). La Villa was in the very first painting you sold and is the setting for the majority of that 42 piece collection which by the time of my second visit had all but sold out. How would you describe your style of painting to people going to visit your work for the first time?
R: I paint figurative art and some say impressionism art. It is important that you feel what I feel when you look at my paintings, the look in a person’s eyes, a look that goes far beyond, deep into their soul, my art is about sentiments and emotions and my objective is to portray just that.
M:Have you already started on your next collection / theme or is it too soon to ask?
R: Let’s say the next collection will have something to do with windows and when it’s nearing completion I will give you a call Michael to have a peek.
M: As always Rafael it`s an education talking to you and I look forward to seeing the next collection.
R: My pleasure, talk to you soon.