Painting Navarre Today

Zoe Bray




In this presentation I will introduce some of the painters who are today working in Navarre. By Navarre, I also understand the province of Baxe Nafarroa, located on the French side of the Basque Country. I will focus particularly on the area close to the Franco-Spanish frontier, notably the valley of Baztan, on the Spanish side, and the valleys of Baigorri and Garazi, on the French side.

Over the past few decades, the Baztan valley has been the base and source of inspiration of a specific group of painters. The figure of the octogenarian Joxe Mari Apezetxea is central here as he has taught his way of painting, similar to the technique of the nineteenth century French painter Paul Cezanne, to a younger generation of painters, which includes Begoņa Durruty (based in Arizkun), Tomas Sobrino (Elizondo) and Xabi Soubelet (Arizkun). Other artists from Baztan worth mentioning are Amaia Zinkunegi and Ines Gereka who work with waste materials to produce all sorts of bizarre and decorative creations. Lola Sarratea specialises in engravings whose humorous subjects are inspired by the traditions and legends of Navarre.  


In the valleys of Baigorri and Garazi, there is not such a homogeneous group of painters to be found. Rather, a handful of painters stand out individually for the strength and originality of their work. One of these is Jacqueline Lebrun, based in Lekumberry, who works from nature to produce abstract paintings in acrylic. Another is Josette Dacosta, who also happens to be my mother, based in Donibane Garazi and the nearby village of Izura. She draws inspiration from the facades of old Basque houses to produce big paintings in oil and tempera which often verge on the abstract. One of her extra large paintings, which usually hangs in the dining hall of the café belonging to Anne-Marie Etchart in Donibane Garazi, is currently in an exhibition in the chapelle des Recollets of Siburu, curated by Robert Poulou.


As for myself, I paint portraits realistically and directly from life. Some of the Navarrese who posed for me in their homes include Mixel Aire and his daughter Miren from Urepel, Jean-Louis Harignordoquy (Laka) from Banca, and Piarres Erdozaintzi from Donaixti. Most recently, these were on exhibit in the historical museum of Biarritz and in the Jai Alai of Donibane Lohitzune on the occasion of the bertsulari championship Xilaba.


Many of these artists have been brought together on different occasions by the association Itzal Aktiboa to exhibit in Garazi, as part of its endeavor to promote Basque contemporary art across the Franco-Spanish frontier. Founded in 2005, this association has organized a series of high-quality exhibitions of regional artists. In October, it will have revealed the results of its first prize competition for Young Basque Art, launched earlier this year.