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BIKONDOA.  THE GRAVEYARD BY THE SEA  (30/04/2012-10/06/2012)
Bilbao, 2012: Museo marítimo de la ría de Bilbao, pp. 6-13


It is difficult for me to refer to “The Graveyard by the Sea” by Paul Valéry, when presenting the homonymous work by Bikondoa without recalling two places which belong to me (with this latter term obviously being understood to refer to life itself): the sojourn in Sète, years ago, and the final reading of the book by Yves Bonnefoy, recalling a poem by Giorgos Seferis about a lost hero from “The Iliad”: Asiné[1], almost at the same time as I became reacquainted with the work of the Basque artist. Light, time and the past, twisted trees and cliffs during a sojourn on the seafront, the melancholy of the reunion in the poem by Seferis which, in Valéry, also finds a sort of happy comradeship.  That said, perhaps I should have said “three” when referring to the “places”, thus adding to the above decarnation and intense emptiness of the Greek’s poetry, in whose verses I find an air of deprivation, a spine-chilling buzz in the reminiscent of Eliot’s wasteland.

In 1998, I travelled to Sète, thanks to Gilles Greck, for an exhibition project in the Chateau d’Ô, in Montpellier, as can be seen, undertaking a tour of the land of the poet Valéry, and such a discovery was a source of turmoil, which still prevails. It was then that I had the disturbing experience of climbing and then descending the cemetery hill’s winding road, a promontory which I now recall was inhabited by a sorrowful silence, a place suspended in time. An emptiness and decarnation on the mountain overlooking the Mediterranean.  The never-ending view of La Corniche beach and its serene brilliance, and the motionless light of midday have accompanied my memory, dormant and intense. That peaceful skyline, lined with the dove-laden sails of boats next to which rests the poet and singer from Sète, Georges Brassens[2].

To come across the work of Alfredo Bikondoa, years later, in that mythical place, somehow allowed me to recall these words from the poet’s work. To exercise what Valéry called “thought” after the reward of the visit. And the sea, the incessantly starting sea, which reminds us of Bikondoa’s vital place, in the vicinity of the bay of San Sebastian. And also the sea of Asine, seen by Seferis with its “long, empty beach”.

For years I have followed the work of this tireless Basque artist about whom, above all, one must remark upon the constancy of his everyday life, immersed in the sweet hell of his study in the basement of the House of the East.  That creative confinement has given rise to memorable projects such as that exhibited in Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea[3] and many other exhibitions, among which I must highlight that which was dedicated to his mysterious, ghostly portraits which were presented in Barcelona in 2010[4]. At this point I must also mention the extraordinary reading by Joaquín Hinojosa of Valéry’s poem during the presentation of this project in the French Institute in Madrid (2009). When commenting on his tireless endeavour, I must also mention an imminent adventurous exhibition, at the venues which the Antonio Pérez Foundation has in Cuenca and San Clemente. These places are, needless to say, ideal for showing the work of the San Sebastian artist who has found, in Antonio Pérez, a tireless reviewer of objects of art history, a sort of extraordinary comradeship in their fondness for helpless subjects.

On this point I must remark that among the life experiences which have left the greatest impression on Alfredo Bikondoa is what Seferis called the “invigorating emptiness”, the fondness for the invigorating emptiness, a fully-fledged defence of nothingness of which another tenacious Basque artist, Jorge Oteiza, -a “nervous” creator like Alfredo-, was a true champion. During his artistic career, in particular in the way in which he adopts this rich array of suggestions from “Le Cimitière”, Bikondoa has also surrounded himself with people who praise emptiness as a source of creation, something which was rightly highlighted by the historical critic Arnau Puig[5]. Both through the work he does in his studio, and through practicing oriental philosophies, – and it can safely be said of his creative perspective, in particular his is painting and objectual work of recent years -, he is a frequenter of synthesis and he appears to present a joyful restriction of creative elements in pursuit of essential asceticism, with the means of creation being reduced to very few elements. Creation which suggests a constructive perspective through a certain calm mineralisation of forms, in which incisions and signals or figures and signs often appear, in the form of wounds in the creative heat of the battle, emulating the smoky, bleak air after the battle. When filtered his works seem to come from a stealthy light, covered in a pale silver-like veil, so his vision of the Cimitière is that of an artist interpreting the silent light, a world of rust and remnants in which crosses are frequently present. This is an age-old symbol which, as in the case of Tàpies, stands in the mercurial space of his sculptures like a sort of remote mythical geography for mankind, which would be recalled by Mircea Eliade[6]. Large crosses between landscapes which are, or rather were, present like the remnants of a poem which is murmuring with slight insistence, with a dusty or remote air, more persistent.  Music among the ruins.

Valéry’s light is, at the same time, the light of life and death, this game which is known to be part of the essence of creation. And the work of the painter from San Sebastian has slid between the all and nothing, since his now-distant early exhibitions in the petite galerie on the classical Rue de Seine in Paris, over forty years ago. Therefore, this seascape of the works of Bikondoa recalling the bays of San Sebastian brings to mind that passion shared by others, and I am thinking of the desolate paintings of contemporary artists such as Gonzalo Chillida and Juan José Aquerreta. In fact the former would dedicate a splendid haiku to him in 2005, which would actually refer to the salty appearance of his painting: “I open the window/The delicious and profound aroma of the sea/A friend”.

How could we refer to the coming together of Bikondoa and Valéry, the “versus” which, in the “meeting” sense of the work, is in the title of our text?

Or perhaps it would be better to ask ourselves: can a visual art recall the intensity of verses?

The Basque artist recalls that, after all, a poem, as also remarked by Bonnefoy, seems to have reached a spiritual place, -such a zenithal place as the skyline of Sète-, however, the paths which lead from it, as Valéry himself also said, are countless, thus enabling their linear reading or interpretation, as well as their exploration. This is the case with the poem by Valéry, from which we are able to remark that countless paths lead. Bikondoa faces the appearance of these potentialities, which make a great poem an indescribable, disturbing and complex experience.

“A letter intended for an unknown person among us, under partially silent circumstances”, sayeth Bonnefoy, and the aforementioned calm or silence is the point at which the work of Bikondoa arrives, seeming to remind us of that nostalgia for the absolute which hangs over the endeavour of mankind, whose task appears to fade with as much swiftness as inevitability. Bikondoa is on an introverted journey through the poetry of Valéry, a glance at the interior details of space; his sculptures emulate the abysmal sight of flotsam from a shipwreck.  Meditative lethargy in the poem by Valéry, and the disturbing stillness seems to speak of the ruinous appearance of Bikondoa’s sculptures, structures devastated in the whirlwind of days, emulating the “strange taste of tears”7 in the verses. Serenity in the indisputable, nirvana in which Bikondoa patiently constructs his objects which appear to be based on the minutiae, on the detail revealed, but which, at the same time, do not elude an intense sense of grandeur, of grandiose remnants, of something done with aplomb.  Valéry recalled the time when poets, like the Basque artist, suspended time, slowly tackling the shapes of which his poems would be composed: “there was a kind of etiquette of form which led to infinite work”7.

To some extent Bikondoa’s work based around the Cimitière, -and also through this etiquette of forms, through the meticulous nature of his work-, proposes emptiness which is scarcely populated by a world of pale lights with a hint of colour, emulating the “fire without matter” of the poem by bard Paul, a student of Montpellier, recalling the fullness and vastness of the world, the material as a dusty illusion, art as a reflection of former fullness. “Il faut vivre”, one must live, sings Valéry in his 24th stanza of the Cimitière. The forms go back and forth in their muteness, Bikondoa’s ritornello in the Cimitière, such a creator of shadows, using them to propose the reinvention of the signs in the absolute (and perhaps chimeric?) kingdom of creation.


[1] Yves Bonnefoy, “Le Nom du roi d’Asiné”, Les Editions Virgile, 2003

[2] In Sète there are two cemeteries.  The “One by the Sea”, of Saint-Charles, where Valéry rests, and « Le Py », in Mont Saint-Clair, the resting place of Georges Bassens.

[3] Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea – Gipuzkoa Regional Council, “Alfredo Bikondoa”, San Sebastian, 2006

[4] Jean Paul Perrier Fine Art Gallery, “Portraits of a Philosophy”, Barcelona, 2010

[5] Arnau Puig, “Alfredo Bikondoa.  Route towards painting and sculpture”.  Unpublished.  Can be read at: www.

[6] Antoni Tàpies, ‘Crosses, X’s and other contradictions’, in ‘Art and its places, Ediciones Siruela, Madrid, 1999