Driving away from Tequise towards Yaiza and the hills of Lanzarote’s volcanic biosphere, we do an emergency stop. What on earth is that? We pull over and investigate. In an untidy suburban garden on the edge of town, we find a curious menagerie of creatures – a horse, an angel, lions, fish, camels, an elephant, dozens of primitive ‘people’, most of them naked, some of them waving. How could we possibly drive on?
This is the work of ‘outsider artist’, Jose Garcia Martin. Not much is known about the man the islanders called Don Pillimpo, except that he was poor, reclusive and possibly illiterate and at some point in his life he started populating his garden with figurative sculptures. Made from clay and rendered in white plaster, they are set around his now-abandoned villa, among palm trees, crucifixes and junk (rusty furniture, toys, irons, old TVs and computers, the odd lavatory…). With its statues on plinths and religious crosses, there is something cemetery-like about the place but, aside from the occasional disembodied mannequin (and a teddy bear chained to a tree), it’s also charming, comic and rather joyful. I would have loved to meets its creator, but he died in 2019.
Like the artist, the garden has more than one name: one of the statues holds a notice saying Casa Museo Mara Mao; on the gate, there’s another saying El Paraiso del Recuerdo (Paradise of Memories). Although it’s well known on the island, and often attracts crowds of nosey tourists, it doesn’t have an official name – nor a certain future. Since Don Pillimpo’s death the place remains in limbo. Nobody seems to know who owns the villa now or whether there are any plans to protect its fantastic garden – there is certainly no sign of any guardianship, apart from a cat who looked very much at home (see picture above).
Let’s hope Don Pillimpo’s extraordinary sculpture garden is one day recognised as the treasure it is and is saved for posterity.