Eduardo Chillida Biography

Eduardo Chillida




Basque sculptor, painter, and printmaker Eudardo Chillida (formal name Eduardo Txillida Juantegui) was born on January 10, 1924, in San Sebastian, Spain. His early interest was in football, playing for the La Liga team of the Real Sociedad until he received a knee injury requiring five surgeries, effectively ending a promising goalie career. Switching gears in 1943, he enrolled at the University of Madrid, studying architecture for three years before abandoning architecture for art, moving to Paris and opening a studio. Eschewing formal academia, he took private lessons in clay and plaster sculpting techniques. He focused on figurative works in the style of the Old Masters whose sculptures he was exposed to at the Louvre and elsewhere. His first exhibition took place in the Salon de Mai at the Musee d'Art Moderne, followed the next year by participation in a show at Galerie Maeght, the first of several at the Parisian gallery.

In 1951 Chillida returned to San Sebastian and began to take an interest in abstract work. Wanting to try something new, he apprenticed with a local blacksmith, learning how to forge iron and setting up a forge in his own studio. He was known for working closely with the men he employed at his forge, rather than handing a maquette to an apprenticed artist as was usual for many artists of the time. A series of monumental wood and iron pieces began to take form which he titled Anvil of Dreams, executed between the years 1954 and 1966. Even in its early stages, the series quickly gained the artist recognition and he was given major commissions by churches and governmental offices. In 1959, he began to work regularly with intaglio printmaking, creating series for independent publication as well as many illustrations for literary publications.

Chillida took inspiration for his work from the theories of modern philosophers, including Martin Heidegger, with whom he formed a correspondance in the early 1960s. Ideas regarding spatial relationships, place, and the existence of "things as places" were formed by both correspondants and this remained a central focus in Chillida's work for the rest of his life and career. He often regarded his pieces as physical manifestations of theories on social constructs rather than works of fine art. In the early 1980s he purchased a 16th century Basque farmhouse and turned the land into an open-air museum with his works displayed throughout the grounds; he called his new home Chillida Leku, "leku" meaning "place" in Basque. 

He often worked collaboratively with poets, writers, and activists, as well. One of his most famous works, 1992's "Monument to Tolerance," features the writing of Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and poet, engraved on a steel tablet seem through the branched arms of his riverside structure in Seville, Spain.

By the early 1980s Chillida's sculpture had gained an international following and his work could be found in prominent locations in San Sebastian, Barcelona, Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Washington, D.C., Dallas, and more. Among these works were landscape installations requiring extreme engineering feats, with massive iron pieces suspended between quarry walls; emerging from a cliffside; bored and chiseled into the ground in descending, labryinthine paths. Meanwhile, he continued to work on small-scale, one dimensional imagery using paint, woodcut, intaglio, and ink. His graphic works were exhibited in major restrospectives at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. (1979); the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1980); Palacio de Miramar, San Sebastian (1992); the Museo Nacional Centrode Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (1999), and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (1999). 

Among the awards received in his lifetime was the Wolf Prize (Isreal, 1983); Premio Pricipe de Austerias de las Artes (Spain, 1987); Praemium Imperiale (Japan, 1991); and the Lifetime Achievement Award (International Sculpture Center, 1998). A posthumous gold medal was granted by Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz' government to both Chillida and architect Luis Pena Ganchegui for their collaborative work on the city square, symbolizing Spain's return to democracy. In 1983, Chillida was elected an honorary academician by the Royal Academy. 

Chillida's work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Tate Britain in London; the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland; the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, whose collection of Chillida's works was inaugurated in 1986. 

Chillida died in his home near San Sebastian on August 19, 2002.