On the morning of Tuesday 16 September 2003, the belfry of the parish church of Sare, a historic Basque village inland from Saint Jean de Luz, caught fire and was almost entirely destroyed. The cause of the fire, during the annual village festivities, was never established, but the people of Sare rallied round. The charred oak beams that were all that remained of the belfry’s wooden structure were dumped in a nearby field, and the bell-tower was rebuilt.
There things might have rested, had not it not occurred to a local art collector, passing nearly one year later by the field where the oak beams lay, that they would be perfect as raw material for a quirky sculptor called Juan Gorriti who lived in a village in Navarre on the other side of the Franco-Spanish frontier.
He contacted Gorriti who contacted the mayor and got permission to load up all the burnt timber and transport it to his farmhouse studio in Arribe, more than an hour’s drive away. For the next six months, he scratched and scraped and polished the tortured oak beams until he had succeeded in turning them into sculptures. A big composite sculpture was destined for the church of Sare, to be installed in the belfry, and other works were to be donated to the village. But most of them were destined for sale to cover Gorriti’s costs and, he hoped, provide him with a profit. Altogether, there were around a hundred works, some of them sculptures only a few centimetres high and others as tall as three metres, plus an assortment of "pictures" made of the charred black chippings from the burnt oak beams decorated with a splash of gold leaf.
I first met Gorriti in the spring, when he was wondering how to present his sculptures to the public. I was living part-time in Paris, and Paris was where Gorriti wanted his sculptures to be shown. We got on well together. I suggested that we could organise a joint exhibition of his sculptures with my paintings, first in Saint Jean Pied de Port and then at the Maison des Pyrénées Atlantiques in Paris. That's what happened. In the photos, you can see Gorriti’s sculptures with my paintings in Saint Jean Pied de Port.