MADRID — We are fans of outsider art at Cfile and this may be the first chance we’ve had to write about outsider architecture. You see, 91-year-old Justo Gallego Martínez has absolutely no training in architecture, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at his brick cathedral on the outskirts of Madrid.
Martínez, who started building the cathedral by himself in 1961, admits his lack of training, but for him that shortcoming speaks to the glory of God. This is what you can do when you trust in Christ, he says.
Whether he is helped by a supernatural agent or no, I think the work speaks for itself. It’s a grand design, betraying little of its amateur origins. The dedication Martínez brings to his lifelong project is awe-inspiring in itself. Gaudí would understand, as well as other outsider religious artists such as Leonard Knight.
The timeline of Martínez’s work is an interesting concept. He knows, at 91 years old (and still working), that there’s no conceivable way he’ll be finished before he dies. He has no plans for what happens after. Who will finish the work? Martínez certainly doesn’t know. He seems to be leaving that choice to God, which is fair because the diety has a share in the project. It’s also fascinating to us that Martínez desires to be buried inside his cathedral, so he is not only building a church, he’s building his own tomb. He has spent the majority of his life, more than 50 years now, building the place where he’ll meet eternity. That’s profound.
The fun thing about outsider art is that the artist is often as compelling as the work they’re making. Martínez, gaunt and drawn, makes an eye-catching figure as he wanders the cavernous hallways of the church he built himself. The solitude is another piece of the aesthetic. As I watch him work, dwarfed by the creation that has demanded so much of him, I wonder how other people’s creative lives are similar.
And, again focusing on the person, I think Martínez is an example of what happens when God speaks to you. It’s a blessing and a curse. On one hand the prophet is driven to do incredible things, far beyond the abilities of average mortals. On the other hand, God demands too much. What did Martínez give up to build this cathedral? Nothing short of a life. Martínez is one-part parable, one-part cautionary tale.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe this work of contemporary brick architecture? Let us know in the comments.