In this episode of A brush with..., Ben Luke talks to the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias about her life and work. Iglesias was born in San Sebastián in the Basque region of northern Spain in 1956. A sculptor and maker of installations, much of her work also comes close to architecture and responds to real-world spaces and natural forms. Early works combined concrete, glass, iron and Baroque tapestries, setting the tone for a lifelong fascination with both rich materials and textures, and the creation of dense, immersive environments. Increasingly, Iglesias has made public architecture works, often on a huge scale and frequently involving water.
In this interview, Iglesias recalls how Disney's Fantasia made an impression on her as a child, how Velázquez's Spinners (Las Hilanderas) started her lifelong love of the collection of the Prado museum in Madrid, for which she created one of her best-known public projects. She discusses other major public commissions, including her underwater sculptures in the Baja California off Mexico and her latest project, Hondalea, in a lighthouse on Santa Clara island in the bay of her hometown. She talks about her love of science fiction, including J.G. Ballard, the importance of music and her work with her composer brother Alberto on a new opera project. And she answers the final questions we ask all our guests on A brush with...: if you could live with just one work of art, what would it be? And what is art for?
Cristina Iglesias on... a childhood trip to Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
"The storytelling inside the architecture, the repetition of the faces set against that blue sky. I was really taken by the power of all of it being a single piece, a complete installation. And that was my first lesson on the possibilities of sculpture as related to the illusionism of painting."
... creating an underwater sculpture off the coast of Baja California, Mexico
"It's 17 metres under the surface and to go you need to dive with oxygen. So to conceive of the work is partly an act of belief. Film and photographic documentation play a big role too and that's very important, because it makes you dream of a place. I love this idea that if you know somewhere exists, you can see it in your mind."
... the influence of multiple cultures on Spain and her work Tres Aguas in Toledo
"The Arabs did a lot in Spain to build the culture we have today. I wanted that cross-pollination of cultures to be evident in my public work in Toledo Tres Aguas (2014). I wanted to speak to the idea of getting lost in a place like that, between one side and the other. Apart from the memory of the piece itself, you would get into history of the Arab and Jewish baths—understand that these cultures shared water for two centuries, the notion of convivencia (coexistence)."
... what art is for
"Art opens the doors of your imagination to new fields of perception. And that means everything, because then you are open to listening to others, to accept yourself and be open to new worlds."
• Cristina Iglesias's site-specific sculpture Hondalea is now open on the island of Santa Clara near San Sebastian and can be reached by boat, which will operate until 30 September from the port of San Sebastian; an exhibition also called Hondalea is at the Museo San Telmo in San Sebastian until 26 September; an exhibition of works on paper is at the Real Academia Belles Artes de San Fernando in Madrid until 25 July; two major works by Iglesias are also on ongoing display in the sculpture park at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, UK; and a new book Liquid Sculpture: The Public Art of Cristina Iglesias, published by Hatje Cantz, is out now and priced €48.