THERE WAS THE DEATH ROW BUT IT’S STILL A GREAT LIFE!

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When he was seventeen years old, on death row, the executioner called his name. As fate would have it, though, it turned out that the death knell was for another Antonio. But would he be so lucky next time?

 

By Rose Maramba
Photos: R. Maramba

Last summer, while Madrid baked in the infernal heat, I met this phenomenal man, Antonio Granados Valdes, who sailed off from the Spanish port of Vigo to Venezuela in 1955 to escape from the persecution of republicans (they lost the Civil War) by the Franco regime.Painting 3, 1999

Antonio recalls how one day, when he was seventeen years old on death row, the executioner called his name and he thought his time had come. As fate would have it, though, it turned out that the death knell was for another Antonio. But would he be so lucky next time?

Painting 4He would not know real peace again yet it took him two decades to decide to flee. With precious few pesetas in his pocket, he made for Venezuela where Spanish exiles enjoyed a semblance of normal life.

At the time Venezuela itself was under the dictatorship of Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez although, typical of dictators, he was tolerant of those who didn’t disparage his rule. And the Spanish exiles had more important things on their minds than courting the ire of the self-proclaimed president; they sought to put an end to the tyranny in Spain, peacefully and through diplomatic channels. Also, Venezuela enjoyed a buoyant economy due to plentiful natural resources, and there were as many economic migrants as political exiles there.

Intellectual and sharp as they come, Antonio got off on the right foot once he was on dry land and the stink of the collective dormitory and toilets of the ship’s economy class was behind him. With his painter’s reputation preceding him, he was invited immediately to join the Exposisión Internacional de Pintura in Valencia, the State of Caraboro’s capital, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city by the Spanish explorer Alonso Diaz Moreno. Luminaries of the exhibition included Pablo Picasso and Expressionist George Henri Rouault.

Antonio’s two paintings, “La Fabrica” and “La Iglesia”, were critically acclaimed and received wide press coverage, resulting in an invitation for a solo exhibition of his 30 works at the prestigious Museo de Bellas Artes of Caracas.

Drawing 1 - copiaAfter penury, financial comfort at last! The paintings he sold on the first day alone made it possible for Antonio to settle his debts in Gijon, Asturias, where he and his wife Tina had lived, although he was born in Andalusia (1917). He was also able to afford air travel for Tina to Caracas.

More: he and his wife could have lived off of the sale for two years without working.

One of the many books Antonio authored in Caracas

One of the many books Antonio authored in Caracas

Not bad for a painter who, being an undesirable element of the Francoist establishment, had extreme difficulty selling his canvases in Spain.

There would be many more exhibitions for him in and out of Venezuela, not least Paris, London, Rome, Florence and cities across the United States.  He bagged several prizes.

Antonio’s talent did not begin and end with painting, drawing and print. He was a respected art critic, writer, editor and publisher. This, plus his academic training in Spain, landed him the job of professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism in the Universidad Central de Venezuela in 1957 where he created the Department of Cultural Extension and ran the show until his retirement in 1978. The Department brought enormous national and international prestige to the Faculty.

Then Generalissimo Franco died; it was time for him and Tina to head back for Spain. Venezuela had done him good and he reciprocated the country’s generosity unstintingly. End of a long rich chapter.

They relocated to Madrid and Antonio made the legendary Café Gijón his second home. Among kindred spirits he attended with clockwork assiduity the famous gathering (tertulia) at the Café they called “la de los poetas”.

After his wife died in 1994, Antonio went back to his art in earnest. He painted this canvas the year after.

After his wife died in 1994, Antonio went back to his art in earnest. He painted this canvas the year after.

Antonio and a friend, one among the closest

Antonio and a friend, one among the closest

In 1994 Tina died. In the face of his great loss he returned hammer and tongs to his art and reaped rewards artistically and financially, especially with his drawings and prints.

Then his eyesight failed. He can no longer do many things. He can’t watch TV. Reading is impossible. For keeping abreast of what’s going on he relies on the radio. And his numerous friends here and from Latin America.

Last summer, we would wait for the late afternoon to escape the worst of the blistering temperatures and hang out on the terraza nearby. I would listen to the riveting stories of this giant of a man over cold drinks – this man who hasn’t stopped looking at life as a boundless font of exciting experiences even when the memory of death row can still sometimes put fear in his heart. A young man who’s celebrating his 98th birthday on 11 December.

Antonio showing painting 2May-June 2015

A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Maestro!