Jorge Oteiza was a Basque Spanish sculptor who also thrived in the areas of painting, designing and writing. He is considered to be an important Basque Spanish artist of the 20th Century and a leading artist in abstract Spanish art.
Jorge Oteiza was born in Orio in the Basque Country, Spain. He began studying art in the nearby town of San Sebastian. His first artistic works also came from this town as well, at the young age of twenty. In San Sebastian, Oteiza worked alongside many young Spanish artists developing vanguard art in the city. Oteiza's first sculptures exhibited influences from Cubism and Primitivism. They were clearly influenced by artists like Picasso and Alberto Sánchez.
It was during this time that Jorge Oteiza's personality changed a lot. He participated in many extra-curricular activities such as boxing and theatre, which made him a much more extrovert and sociable person.
Oteiza then went to University in Madrid, with the original aim of studying architecture but he eventually ended up studying for a degree in Medicine. He never finished this course but his interest in Biology and Chemistry influenced some of his sculptures later in life. Oteiza also discovered his strong pride in his Basque heritage in Madrid.
In 1935, Jorge Oteiza decided to go and study in Latin America. His aim was to investigate the art from the period before the Spanish conquest of South America. Oteiza stayed in South America until 1949; hence he missed the majority of the Spanish Civil War back home in Spain.
On his return to Spain, Jorge de Oteiza completed some sculptural work for the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Arantzazu, in the Basque Country, which had been designed by Spanish architect, Francisco Javier Saénz de Oiza. During this work, Jorge Oteiza put his findings from Latin America into practice.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Jorge Oteiza studied the language of the Basque Country, Euskera, as well as the anthropological and historical roots of the Basque people and their identity. This work, 'Quosque tandem! Ensayo de interpretación del alma vasca' (Quosque tandem! An Essay on the Interpretation of the Basque Spirit), which was published in 1963, was to become extremely famous as he defended both the Basque culture and identity, in a time when General Franco was suppressing regional identities and enforcing the sole usage and teaching of Castilian Spanish. Hence this essay was both famous and controversial.
Oteiza completed many large urban sculptures as well, such as 'El Variente Ovoide de la desocupación de la esfera', which stands next to the Town Hall of Bilbao and 'Construcción Vacia' which can be found by the seafront in San Sebastian.
Jorge Oteiza won around fourteen prizes during his lifetime. One of which was the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Artes in 1988 for his sculpture and his essays on art, aesthetics and anthropology, his poetry and his constant search for new angles in the discipline of art.
In 1992, Oteiza donated all of his works to the city of Navarre so that people could enjoy and study his work. In 2003, Jorge Oteiza died, and as his will had asked, a museum was opened documenting his life and work. The 'Fundación Jorge Oteiza' (The Jorge Oteiza Foundation) is located in Navarra de Alzuza and contains over 1650 sculptures, 2000 pieces from his experimental lab, his personal library along with many drawings and collages. Unfortunately, in 2007, the two bronze crosses that marked the place where Jorge Oteiza and his wife were buried, were stolen.
Jorge Oteiza is considered to have been the artist who bridged the difference between the vanguard artists and the post-war artists of Spain. He was also influential in both Spanish politics and culture.