Exploring | Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona | Spain
A conversation with Etsuro Sotoo, sculptor-in-chief of the Sagrada Familia about the links between him, Antoni Gaudi, architecture, religion and food.
I met the Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo at his studio not far away from Gaudi’s crypt, in the non- public space of the Sagrada Familia, surrounded by an infinity of sketches, drawings, plans and miniature models. Sotoo has made it his life's work to carry on the master's project since 1978, when he began as a stone mason. Later on, as sculptor-in-chief of the Sagrada Familia, he was commissioned to follow Gaudi's unmistakable style –”but there were times where I did not know how to follow him“, confesses Sotoo to me on a short walk through the construction site.
In fact, Gaudi did not leave detailed plans for the many high reliefs that decorate the fantastical façades when he died, so designing new sculptures can be sometimes “a monumental headache”, as Sotoo says. He himself has often felt hopeless and confused and not known how to follow Gaudi ´s mostly non-existent guidelines for the design of the church. One day, while standing in front of Gaudi´s tomb, Sotoo heard a voice. ”The voice said to me: ‘Don’t look at what I have done, look at that what I would want to look at.’ He showed me a path that I could follow. Since them I speak to Gaudi every day. Now I have the formula to interpret and continue Gaudi’s work. “
Gaudi did not leave detailed plans for the many high reliefs that decorate the fantastical façades when he died, so designing new sculptures can be sometimes “a monumental headache”, as Sotoo says.
Etsuro Sotoo has since converted to Catholicism and he is known to many people as the Asian reincarnation of Antoni Gaudi. However, the Japanese national, who is Spanish by choice, is not only devoted to the religion but also to Spanish cuisine. His love for Iberian cured ham lead him to work together with Joselito, one of the best –if not the best –Spanish cured ham manufacturers: he has been in charge of designing a luxurious chest for the company with the ancestral Japanese technique of urushi. The otherwise silent and reserved Sotoo glows when it comes to food: “One thing I really love about Barcelona is that you get very good quality fish at reasonable prices (compared to Japan)! And tuna sashimi. I love those superb tuna blocks in the Boqueria market. “Stone blocks, tuna blocks, stone cutting, Iberico ham cutting..., hmm, I assume there are some parallels between his work as a sculptor and his preferences as a foodie.
And what about Gaudi and his preferences for food? Is there also a connection between his work and food?
And what about Gaudi and his preferences for food? Is there also a connection between his work and food? Who else if not Sotoo could give me an answer: “Gaudi lived as an ascetic and refused the joy of food. There are some stories about that. Food was apparently not important for him”- says Sotoo, continuing:- “But I have been thinking about your question since the day you contacted me, and yes, maybe there are some links between food, the Sagrada Familia and Gaudi. Can you see those semi-finished sculptures of fruits and cereals over there? You will see many of them all around the Sagrada Familia. Here, at the lower part of the Church you will find sculptures of buds and sprouts, but in the upper part you will see sculptures of all those sprouts blossoming and the very top fruits and cereals, the result of the harvest.
“To grow physically you need food, to grow spiritually you need religion.”
What do you think Gaudi wanted to say to us with that? “, asked me Sotoo. “I don’t know” I replied. “For me –continued Sotoo– the symbolism is now clear. To grow physically you need food, to grow spiritually you need religion.”