When Antoni Gaudí graduated from the School of Architecture in Barcelona, the principal Elies Rogent said, “I don’t know whether we have given the qualification to a madman or a genius.”
When looking at Gaudí’s work, one can understand the sentiment. It is colorful, passionate, and bizarre. It holds no reason, yet makes perfect sense.
I fell in love with Gaudí in the fading sunlight of a clear day, when the triumphant chariot glowed golden atop La Cascada in Parque de la Cuidadela. The park is pretty, wide, and interesting, but La Cascada is by far its best feature. It is a giant fountain that Gaudí helped to design for the Universal Exhibition in 1888. La Cascada is a delight to the eyes, a harmonious tribute to the ocean, complete with dragons, seahorses, and Aphrodite rising from a seashell. It was the most beautiful fountain I’ve ever seen in my life. My love only grew from there.
The root of Gaudí’s genius lies in the blending of three key elements: the classics, fantasy, and nature. Gaudí studied everything, from the shapes of a leaf to the composition of a molecule. To me, Gaudí’s work represents unlimited possibilities. He tackled a subject often tried by many, and made one key change: he didn’t try to imitate it. He celebrated it. His art is weird, colorful, and intricate, because nature is weird, colorful and intricate. His buildings are unexpected and beautiful, rampant with organic lines waving and curling around. In Gaudí’s world, straight lines don’t exist.
La Sagrada Familia (which means “Sacred Family”) was my favorite. In my time in Europe, I have been fortunate enough to see many beautiful churches. But as I have discussed before, the truth is that once you’ve seen one overwhelming, intricate cathedral, you’ve seen them all. I know, its a horrible thing to say that these behemoths have become passé, but they look awfully similar. With the exception of La Sagrada Familia. Gaudí started his pièce de résistance 1882 and even now, in 2013, it is not finished. Like a never ending story, it seems fitting that this temple of creativity and faith should carry on with a complex life of its own.
The Basilica, which looks like a wet-sand-dribbled castle, towers over you, overwhelming you with intricate details of the Bible etched into its facades. When you enter, you don’t enter into a sanctuary. You enter a forest.
Tall columns soar up into the high rafters of the Basilica, meant to imitate trunks of trees. Overhead, huge stone palms interlock to form a canopy to shelter the congregation. But the best part is the windows and windows of stained glass. Instead of having images in the windows, there are just millions of fragments of colors, all chromatically arranged to blend into the different hues of the rainbow. When the light shines threw, the Basilica is bathed in multi-colored light that can only be described as magical. It was so overwhelming–I can safely say that it is the only church that has ever rendered me speechless.
We traversed away from the city center to the Park Güell, which is built into the side of a hill. From a wide terrace, you can see all of Barcelona and the blue blanket of the sea. Here you can find the best example of trencadís, Gaudí’s invention of using the broken scraps of azulejos (colored tiles) and creating mosaic-like surfaces. Just another example of his brilliance; instead of wasting a perfectly good tile, he incorporated it into his artwork.
Needless to say, my enthusiasm for Gaudí knows no bounds. Give me a good cup of coffee and about two hours, and I could talk about Gaudí until the mosaic salamanders came home. It’s difficult to describe my passion; I just get him. His objectives, his weirdness, his colors–they all “speak to me” in that cheesy artsy way.
So maybe I’m a little biased, but before you write him off as a madman, consider his genius first.
Antoni Gaudí and I met on March 16th, 2013, and I’ll never stop falling in love.