José Antonio Sistiaga

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José Antonio Sistiaga (4 May 1932, San Sebastián, Spain) is a Spanish artist and experimental filmmaker best known for his feature-length hand-painted "direct" film, ... era erera baleibu izik subua aruaren ... (1968–70). He lives in Ciboure (France) and works in San Sebastian (Spain).

Early works[edit]

During the Spanish civil war, as a son of a republican Basque, José Antonio Sistiaga had to escape from Bilbao with part of his family to Bordeaux (France) after the bombing of Guernica in April 1937. In 1955, he settled in Paris where he met the Andalusian painter Manuel Duque,[1] executed his first paintings in Paris, in the context of the Informal painting movement. His early works (black paintings) date back to 1959 : abstract, non-geometrical, they could be compared to Henri Michaux's or Jean Fautrier's works, despite the fact Sistiaga never heard about these artists at this moment.[2] Back in basque country, Sistiaga met the sculptor Jorge Oteiza. In 1963 he created a workshop for free expression dedicated to children, influenced by alternative pedagogic method of Celestin Freynet ; he collaborated in that direction with artist Esther Ferrer for a project based in Elorrio. During these years (60's) Sistiaga has a reel interdisciplinary artistic strategy and interest between alternative teaching, performances, contemporary music and cinema. In 1966, he formed along with other Basque artists the influential avant-gard group Gaur. This collective gathered the following artists : Jorge Oteiza, Rafael Ruiz Balerdi, Eduardo Chillida, Remedio Mendiburu, Néstor Basterretxea, Amable Arias, José Luis Zumeta and José Antonio Sistiaga.[3] Sistiaga focused his pictorial and graphic works on energy, movement, gesture : his works on canvas or paper seem to be seismographs of sensibilities and emotions.

Alternative teachings, conferences and performances[edit]

Sistiaga discovered in Paris the artistic alternative workshop dedicated to childs created by Arno Stern : L'Académie des jeudis. Stern searched to reveal the original creativity of the children, far from the artistic education.[4] Sistiaga will create similar workshops when he will be back in Spain (San Sebastian) with the help of artist Esther Ferrer : La Academia de los jueves, which will be active from 1963 to 1968. In Parallel, he was in touch with Celestin Freinet, who created the Methode Freinet of teaching, based on development of the child from his own capacities. Sistiaga organized exhibitions in basque countries of children creations, sometimes with his own works[5]

Experimental cinema[edit]

After seeing in Paris a Norman Mac Laren's film, he decided to improve this medium to pass over his pictorial strategies. He exhibited his first film in 1968 at the Bilbao Short Film Festival. Titled ... era erera baleibu izik subua aruaren ... (a nonsense phrase coined by Sistiaga's friend Rafa Ruiz Balerdi), it won a prize for best experimental film. This 10-minute short, hand-painted in a fairly conventional cartoon style, was later renamed De la Luna a Euskadi ("From the Moon to the Basque Country"). Thanks to the help of collector and patron from Navarra Juan Huarte, who created a film production company X-Films to produce films made by basque artists from the Gaur Movement (Balerdi, Basterretxea, Sistiaga), the artist began painting his abstract magnum opus in 1968. It took 17 months of 10- to 12-hour days to complete. The silent, 75-minute ... era erera baleibu izik subua aruaren ... was first exhibited at Madrid in 1970. The technique is hand painted film. Sistiaga used the same vocabulary of his paintings (lines, points, colour) onto the film celluloid and obtained random patterns of colored points that evokes the atomic matter or the "Primitive soup" of universe. Subsequent screenings took place in London, Paris, Barcelona and New York City. Each of the approximately 108,000 frames in ... era erera is completely unique, and appears onscreen for only 1/24th of a second. No optical printing techniques or special photographic effects were employed in its production.

... era erera baleibu izik subua aruaren ... is the first feature-length example of "direct" cameraless filmmaking, a painstaking technique dating back to the early 1900s. Other well-known artists in the genre include Len Lye, Harry Smith, Norman McLaren (whose work Sistiaga cites as a direct influence) and Stan Brakhage.

In 1972, José Antonio Sistiaga participated to the International Art Event Encuentros de Pamplona with painting and his films. Juan Huarte (patron of the event)[6] commissioned him to shoot a film on the event where participated American composer John Cage, Steve Reich and European ones Luc Ferrari and José Luis Isasa.[citation needed][7] During this period, Sistiaga painted large paintings with curves, lines on white canvas[8]

Later hand-painted films and recent paintings[edit]

In 1988-89, Sistiaga painted a new direct film Impresiones en la alta atmósfera ("Impressions from the Upper Atmosphere") in 70mm 15-perf horizontal format, intended for exhibition in giant-screen IMAX and Omnimax theaters.

From the middle of 90's, the artist got a generous space in Antiguo district (in San Sebastian), allowing the artist to produce his huger canvas : Cosmos Oceano, The Four Seasons, Maurice Ravel's tribute are some of them.

Two additional 35mm films using a different technique,filming hand painting transparents, Paisaje inquietante Nocturno ("Disturbing Nocturnal Landscape") and En un jardin imaginado ("In an Imaginary Garden"), were completed in 1991.

Since then, Sistiaga began working on a new film onto 70 mm celluloid with IMAX format : Han. Sobre el sol. Still unfinished ( only 2 minutes have been released), this film explores the cosmic iconography of stars and galaxies ; with this aim, the artist used two animation techniques : "direct film" (hand painted film) and animation frame after frame for fixing in the frame a form.[9]

Painterly and cinematic processes nourish each other in Sistiaga's works. The artist has been working since 2011 on a new typology of paintings on board, following Jackson Pollock's dripping technique ; this series is composed of two sorts of works: first, those which get the impact of the gesture on the board surface and, second, those which collect splatters or splashes from a distance. This strategy which aims at collecting on the surface traces of vital energy, has links with alchemical processes or for example interest of artists for magnetism and all other emanations of invisible .

His films are part of permanent collections of eminent museums in the world : Centre Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne (Paris) and Museo de arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. You can see Sistiaga's paintings at the Museo de bellas artes in Bilbao, at the Museo San Telmo in San Sebastian or at the Museo nacional Centro de arte Reina Sofia in Madrid.


  • ... era erera baleibu izik subua aruaren ... (retitled De la Luna a Euskadi) (1968) (35mm, silent, 8 minutes)
  • ... era erera baleibu izik subua aruaren ... (1968–70) (35mm, silent, 75 minutes)
  • Ana (1970) (16mm, sound, 7 minutes)
  • Laztanak (1970) (16mm, 85 minutes)
  • Encuentros 1972, Pamplona (1972) (16mm, silent)
  • Impresiones en la alta atmósfera (1988–89) (70mm 15-perf, sound, 7 minutes)
  • Paisaje inquietante Nocturno (1991) (35mm, sound, 14 minutes)
  • En un jardin imaginado (1991) (35mm, sound, 14 minutes)
  • Han (sobre el sol) (1992; in progress) (70mm 15-perf, sound, actually 2 minutes)

Films on José Antonio Sistiaga[edit]

  • Sistiaga. A Basque Story. directed and produced by Manuel Sorto. 2014. 100 min.


  • Sistiaga : pintura, dibujos eroticos, films : 1958-1996. Bilbao: Rekalde Eraskustaretoa, DL. 1996.
  • Bego Vicario, Jesus Maria Mateos (2007). Sistiaga, el trazo vibrante. Animadrid.
  • Sistiaga : suite érotique (exhibition cat). San Sebastian. Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea: Deputation Foral de Gipuzkoa. 2007.
  • José Antonio Sistiaga Lorategi irudikatu bateko islak. (Reflections in an imaginary garden). San Sebastian: Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea. 2011. ISBN 978-84-7907-664-1.
  • José Antonio Sistiaga. De la pintura gestual al arte del movimiento. Alzuza (Pamplona): Fundacion Museo Jorge Oteiza. Pamplona, Navarra. 2015. ISBN 978-84-943774-0-2.


  1. ^ Cf Jean-Michel Bouhours "Del nubismo a las profundidades del comos. Un panteismo visual" in cat José Antonio Sistiaga. De la pintura gestual al arte del movimiento. Fundacion Museo Jorge Oteiza. Pamplona, Navarra 2015
  2. ^ Cf José Antonio Sistiaga Lorategi irudikatu bateko islak. Exhibition catalog directed by Jean-Michel Bouhours, San Sebastian (Spain) Koldo Mitxelena, 2011
  3. ^ see and also Constellation Gaur : una trama vanguardist del arte vasco = Gaur konstelazioa abangoardiako area euskal artean (exh cat). Vitoria Gasteiz, Caja Vital, Obra social = Vital Kutza, Gizarte-Ekintza, D.L 2004
  4. ^ Fore more information see official website
  5. ^ see Jaione Apalategi Begiristain "Sistiaga y la education de la libre expresion" in catalog José Antonio Sistiaga De la painter gestural al arte del movement keen bidezko pinturatik mugimenduaren artery. Pamplona, 2015, Fundacion Museo Jorge Oteiza.
  6. ^ José Díaz Cuyás, Patricia Molins, Francisco Javier San Martín, Carmen Pardo Salgado, Pepa Bueno, Vicente J. Benet, Esteban Pujals Encuentros de Pamplona Fin de fiesta del arte experimental. Museo nacional centro de arte Reina Sofia.Madrid 1997. ISBN 978-84-8026-405-1
  7. ^ see Encuentros de Pamplona 1972 : fin de fiesta del arte experimental. Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, DL, 2009
  8. ^ We can see such paintings in the permanent collections of Museo de bellas artes in Bilbao or Museo nacional centro de arte Reina Sofia in Madrid
  9. ^ CF illustrations in ibidem, p 144-145