If you are a friend of Café del Mar, you may have heard the name of Lluis Güell. Even if you don’t know his name, his dream is the same as yours, his hand has had his way in shaping your life. It is Lluis, maverick Catalan artist, who channeled eroticism, Christian mythos, il nomine Gaudi, et spiritus modernité, pop-art, and visionary surrealism. Finally, Güell distilled these ideas into a tangible, earthly form.
The result, of course, was the origin of Café del Mar.
To sit inside the cafe is to be enveloped by the mind of a master artist. For regular people like you and I, it can be hard to understand. Lluis Güell didn’t care about money. He didn’t care about fame or fortune. He didn’t care about public opinion or whether he was considered a success. He didn’t even care if people liked him at all. As a result, I am reminded of the words of The Art of Noise referring to Claude Debussy, the French genius who arguably began modern music as we know it.
“He didn’t believe in the Establishment
He didn’t believe in Bourgeois Convention
He didn’t believe in Beethoven or Wagner
He believed…. in Debussy”
If you are reading this at Cafe del Mar right now, consider listening to Debussy. As Debussy understood the impressionism of music, being the subjective aspect of the art, so did Güell. Both artists grasped intuitively what Paul Bourget meant by the words:
“Il faut vivre comme on pense, sans quoi l’on finira par penser comme on a vécu.”
“One must live the way one thinks or end up thinking the way one has lived.”
Beginnings/Memories of Lluis Güell
Güell was born in Banyoles, Girona as the Second World War drew to a close. Franco’s Spain had been kept out of the conflict thanks to huge bribes from the British, and so was relatively unscathed by the destruction of global mechanised conflict- if not unscathed by authoritarianism and the civil war of the 1930s.
It’s hard for me to imagine what it must have been like for Güell. He was born twenty years later and a hundred kilometres north from where the great Gaudi died; in a time that politicised faith and suppressed his Catalan language.
We are left only with his art, memories of those that knew him personally, and a dwindling number of buildings touched by the hand of greatness. We are told that Lluis Güell was sometimes difficult to work with. We are told that he could be impossible to compromise with. Consequently, we are told that he could be hard to be friends with.
Isn’t that the case, with genius? It seems like an affliction as much as a blessing, to be surrounded by us mere mortals, placed on an unrequested pedestal and rarely understood.
Güell believed that in the postmodern era, that the disco had replaced the church as a venue for transcendental ecstatic moments.
It is in this mindset that Lluis shaped his architecture, the reflection of his talent.
The subterranean sexual stalagmites of Club Skinsad in Banyoles, a place that is in design a three-way split between the Moloko Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange, Luke Skywalker’s House from Star Wars: A New Hope, and The Chauvet Cave in Southern France, documented by Werner Herzog in his 2010 documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Of course, the effect is astounding; at once a galaxy far away (with distinctly North African decor) a post-modern-futurist drug den, and an ancient religious site, the only record of a people who lived and died over thirty thousand years ago.
You might recognise the pillars here if you’re a seasoned clubber (or have been on the island for forty years!). What we are looking at on the right is an aerial shot of Es Paradis, Sant Antoni– before the roof went on. However, the interior that we see is also the work of Güell. Two years of his life went into what remains to many “the most beautiful club in the world”.
The DJ booth in (now closed) Cala de Bou nightclub Summum was a lectern-cum-angelic cloud-decked pagan altar. Overhead, cavorting cherubims sing hosannah in Güell’s new, hip-shaking religion.
A.G (After Güell)
Perhaps, as a culture, we have become more difficult to impress, less prone to fancy; treating whimsy as merely something to be done ironically. Maybe this is why we live in an age of amorphous blobitecture, backward looking and rigid neo-classical, and functionalist eco-structures. Maybe Lluis Güell could only have existed at the convergent point after the post-hippy depression and during the optimistic naïveté of the mid to late 1970s.
Consequently, it seems impossible that that Café del Mar could be built today. First of all, who would be brave enough to claim that an acid-trip ice cream shop of the high seas could not only be realised in three-dimensional space, but be one of the most beautiful examples of interior design of the century?
In opposition to our current style since the turn of the millennium, immune to cynicism (except when working with it conceptually) Güell achieved what is impossible in the age of Facebook likes and Twitter followers. He changed the lives of millions while remaining virtually anonymous.
Today people can gain huge wealth and status by, for example, playing video games on YouTube. In our hyper-connected world, we look for something tangible in the digital. What would Lluis have made of this? In any case, a deeper connection has been made between us all, through his art. How many likes for this post? How many shares for these fluted pillars and sexualised clouds.
Güell seems anachronistic in that context. His work is so non-digital and so sensorial, that to even try to put the two worlds together seems perverse. Come to think about it, I think Lluis Güell might have enjoyed that juxtaposition, were he here to see it.
Lluis died on the 13th of December, 2005.
In conclusion, thank you, Lluis Güell. We owe you everything.