Biography of Amable Arias

Amable was born in 1927 in Bembibre del Bierzo (León), where he lived until the age of four. This was a place he left with hardly any memories but which nevertheless affected his perception of the world. The profligacy of his father created such serious financial problems for the family that they had to move to the ’poor house’. Amable’s days were divided between school, family quarrels and playing with friends. Later on, we find clear evidence of a remarkable contrast with his life in the village and the sad atmosphere at home.

In 1936 just after the start of the Civil War, Amable was severely injured in a serious accident. Whilst playing at the railway station, a loose wagon crushed him against a wall. During the next five years Amable underwent fourteen painful operations. These left him disabled and remained dependant on crutches for the rest of his life.

In 1942 the family moved to San Sebastian. These became known as the years of ‘the hammock,’ filled with sadness and secluded confinement. His father frequently bullied him and his mother and Amable’s education was totally abandoned. It was from this hammock that he saw his adolescence slip away. Finally his father left them and to their relief all ties with him were severed. Mother and son survived this new phase under immense difficulties, times were extremely hard however due to his mother’s ingenuity in obtaining penicillin on the black market Amable’s health improved greatly.

After many years of seclusion he began to venture out and occasionally attended art classes at the Martiarena’s studio. These lessons, though not of great value, made him determined to develop his strong vocation.

In 1949 his mother took a job as a cloakroom attendant at the Teatro Principal and Amable used to help her there. He became aware of his total lack of education and cleverly managed to conceal this fact by devising his own learning strategy. He used to spend the mornings reading at the local library and in the evenings cloakroom duties permitted, he managed to be present at the performances. Without much idea of guidance or selection he would select authors, simply because he just heard of them or merely liked the look of them. He was almost twenty five years of age when he made the transition from reading comics into a world of philosophy, science and literature.

In his first oils, scenes of Bembibre, dated from l956, we can discover the clear distinctive graphics which were to remain a constant throughout his work. On his return to San Sebastian, Amable painted in the kitchen while everyone else was asleep .Using a kitchen chair as an improvised easel, he painted figures of distorted sad creatures that reflected all pain that tormented him.

For his first exhibition, in 1958, in Aranaz Darras in San Sebastian, he created three magnificent and huge Christs. He was brought up under devout and fanatical catholic rules but it is clear that by the time of this exhibition he had totally abandoned religion.

Amable, who by then had the use of a vast cellar, decided with his friend the painter Rafa Ruiz Balerdi to organise a collective exhibition instead of the traditional ‘official’ exhibition ‘The Ten’ as it was called, marked the beginning of what later became known as ‘Grupo Gaur’. Amable continued painting scenes from Bierzo. It is from this ‘gutsy’ identification with the land that he developed a form closer to abstract, though he was never to abandon the figures, which were always present in his works

Because of his rebellious attitude Amable became more and more controversial. In 1963 his exhibition of ‘ Empty spaces’ at the Town Hall offended municipal cultural sensibility of the town and the Mayor forbade in future cultural manifestation of this kind. The myth of this singular and controversial artist kept growing!

From his conversations with Sistiaga, friend and artist, and as a result of the absence of support and lack of judgement from local institutions, they both agreed to demonstrate their frustrations by organising an exhibition of abstract tendencies which gathered Basque artists from Guipúzcoa. With the participation of Oteiza, this idea had a much bigger impact and thus Grupo Gaur was formed, its members were Basterretxea, Ruiz Balerdi, Sistiaga, Zumeta and Amable, and the sculptors Oteiza, Chillida and Mendiburu.

We cannot deny the importance of women in Amable’s life. We can see this favourable attitude through his personal statements and the repercussions on both his art and his literary works. It is possible that his attitude was partly due to the deplorable paternal influence enabling Amable to value more and more the females. The attraction he felt for the site sex was reciprocal and even though he was so distant from the ‘macho’ stereotype either mental or physically, he was gifted with great seductive powers.

After a period in which he did not paint, due to the absence of a studio, he began in his career the stage known as ‘atom painting’ or ‘drop painting’ (1966-1967) where we can observe the ‘reduction method’ obtained by breaking down the composition using small strokes.

In 1970 he was to meet Maru Rizo, who was to remain his companion, throughout the rest of his life Amable began the most prolific artistic period of his life. He rented a small studio where he let his ideas and imagination run freely. He distanced himself from public engagements and concentrated on his work. The exclusion he encountered leads him to be known as ‘the cursed artist’. In time abstract painting lost its revolutionary impact. For Amable was time to go back to the‘ impure art form’ He began to explore a facet known as ‘new figuration’ where he united both tendencies. Delicate characters started filling up his paintings expressing humour and a sense of utopia. Amable is capable of expressing ingenuity and sense of fun thus reflecting a true personal fulfilment. Amable’s artistic work does not make a distinction between oils, graphics, writings or sound, every aspect is encompassed in a complete field, he searches incessantly for the most unorthodox methods which excite his creativity thus avoiding the ‘sin’ of comfort.

Like all intellectual artists of his time, Amable held a clear anti-Franco position and his ideological and theoretical reflection placed him on a radical and Marxist line.

The last years of Amable’s life, were dictated by his awareness of an approaching death and hunger for the time he had left, generated in him a relentless determination to create. Amable died in 1984 due to kidney failure. He was 55 years old.

Carmen Alonso-Pimentel


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