Flying over the Miocene of Madrid -and then over Africa!

Ok, it is time for another trip back in time to the early 1990s, a time when Spain was organizing the Olympic games of Barcelona and the Universal Exposition of Seville and we tought we were a rich country…

Meanwhile, I was busy working in my largest commission (before or after) for the exhibit “Madrid Antes del Hombre”, including a collection of life-size sculptures of Tertiary mammals and a series of 5 big paintings.

One of these paintings should represent the environments of the Paracuellos fossil site in the Northeast of the Madrid province. After some rejected concepts we decided to go for an aerial view that would show more clearly the lay of the land in the late Aragonian (Middle Miocene). Back then, some 12 million years ago, the Madrid basin lacked any outlet and the waters coming from the mountain ranges around it simply accumulated in an enormous, shallow lake. During the summer rains, the arid mountainsides were intensely eroded and alluvial fans appeared at the foot of the hills.

My inspiration for this oil painting was a series of aerial photographs of the Okavango Delta published in a book called “Above Africa” (1989), by Herman Poitgeter and Clive Walker. Of course there are great differences between the Okavango and the Miocene Madrid basin, especially because the land in Northern Botswana is almost completely flat, but even so the combination of inland deltas and a generally arid environment was enough to set my imagination “to fly”.

I started with a series of detailed pencil sketches, such as the one you can see here…

boceto paracuellos baja

And then I set to work in the large canvas, about 180 cm in length…


After finishing that huge assignment I felt satisfied but quite spent, and decided to take the trip of a lifetime. So my wife and me visited Africa for the first time, and what a better place to do that than the Okavango? We took a scenic flight over the delta and it was impossible not to make the connection between the distant past I had been painting a few months before and the spectacle unfolding below.

Here is one of the slides I took during that memorable flight

It is easy, and probably wrong, to think of the distant past of life on Earth as an “Eden”. But one thing is certain, the land was wild and free. Places like the Okavango are still like that, and are our last links with the kind of natural world where our species evolved, where our senses got fine-tuned to the environment, and where our minds awoke -in brief, where we belong. Even a brief visit to a place like the Okavango reminds us of what it was like to be truly free. For me, that puts things in perspective in a way that nothing else can!


Posted on 31/05/2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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