All credit to my excellent friend Alexandra Waters: months earlier, upon being informed of my summertime Pais Vasco plans, she had gushed to me about a highly unusual forest somewhere near Guernika that she had chanced to visit. Fast-forward to July, and Aldo’s handing me a tourist catalogue of the area; when I come across the photo I immediately recognize what it is I’m seeing.
Traveler’s destiny? I thought the same back in December, when Hondarribia was a strange name stumbling over the tip of my tourist tongue, when the long-awaited wild horses showed their fuzzy manes atop the most unexpected mountain. We can call it coincidence, if you prefer your grandiose proclamations fate free. A series of damn fine coincidence.
We make the trek to El Bosque Pintado de Oma on a hazy Saturday afternoon. Drizzle threatens but never materializes. It’s a several kilometer hike into the forest in order to find the famed painted trees, including multiple serious ups and downs, and a first view of white swaths of paint across trunks is uncompensatingly unimpressive. However, the forest floor is dotted with stone markers, complete with arrows indicating the direction in which one is meant to look – and from these particular points, what appears to otherwise be colorful chaos coagulates into magic patterns. Stripes zig and zag their way across the forest, alternatively forming both curved and linear designs. We see eruptions of flames, motorcycles, and a sudden menacing crowd that appears to have it out for the viewer.
Curiously, the eerie sensation of being observed appears to be somewhat of an artist’s theme; an enormous section of trees is dedicated to ever-alert eyeballs of every size and color.
Later this night, we mention to a few local friends where we’ve been all day, and are informed that the artist is not too highly regarded ’round these parts – seems his outspoken politics err on the side of facha, which certainly doesn’t go over big in el Pais Vasco. I do vaguely remember Alexandra mentioning something about politically-motivated vandalism of the painted trees. It certainly raises questions that are intriguing, if not too original: can art be “good” if its creator is “bad”? To what extent are we obligated to consider artistic merit in the light of the artist’s own proclivities? Those of you familiar with my beleaguered thesis will know my response already, but by no means do I consider the matter closed – what do you think?