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I am privileged enough to live and work smack in the center of Spain´s UNESCO Paleolithic cave art.  I have caves within walking distance of my house with art that is over 40,000 years old.  I consider myself very fortunate to enter them quite often.  Entering the caves is always special and each time is a new experience no matter how many times I´ve been in.  It´s as if you are crossing into another world and stepping back in time, way back.

Northern Spain Tour Paleolithic Art Cave Entrance

a door to the Paleolithic with the active archaeological dig in the foreground

At one of my favorite caves the other morning I was having a discussion with Ludy, a longtime guide who is passionate about his work and also lives it through his own art.  Recently, he inaugurated an exhibition of his art right here in our little town.  The exhibit has been in France as part of a larger display of Paleolithic related art and having it around the corner (literally) is a treat.

Ludi Art exhibit Presentation

Ludy inaugurating along with the local authorities

Ludy is an interesting fellow and like me, very passionate about Paleolithic cave art.  He has visited most of the caves in Spain and France with Paleolithic art. He has been guiding at the caves in Cantabria in Northern Spain since I was a child.  He stresses the importance of connecting our local children to this one of a kind art and getting them involved in the techniques and methods used to create it.  I was hooked at an early age thanks to my father taking me to see the art as a child.

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-kids-paint

workshop area where kids learn to make negative hand prints using Paleolithic materials and methods. “Hands on” learning at its best

In his own art Ludy reproduces the art found in the caves of Spain and France using the same techniques our ancient ancestors did.  Instead of the limestone walls of the caves he works with watercolor paper.  He says it simulates the porosity of the limestone best.  He employs the same minerals that artists did thousands of years ago:  iron oxide, limonite and carbon.  All of these readily available in the areas of the caves.

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Paint-Minerals

Iron oxide and limonite, natural materials found near Northren Spain´s caves that Ludy uses for making Paleolithic paint

His reproductions give you a different point of reference for the art.  By changing the scale or adding color to engravings or enlarging them so you can see them better, his art lets you get closer at times than when you are next to the original pieces.  He also combines different art from different caves that many times try to convey the same thing.  In real life you´d have to travel thousands of kilometers and many hours from the other.  It is useful in bringing it all together for you.  A wonderful way to interpret it and really well done. Following are a few of the pieces of the exhibition that provide a good sample and breadth, both of Ludy´s art but also of the kind of Paleolithic art you find in the caves of Northern Spain and Southern France.  Sorry if some of the pics are skewed, the gallery had bad lighting that reflected off of the glass and I had to stand off to the side to remove the glare.  Enough excuses, here it is! Let me start with a piece that instantly transports me to one of the principal panels in a cave right near my house.  It is actually a composition of many caves but a subject that is reproduced often:  human hands.  Some are in negative (outline) made by blowing paint over a hand held to the wall and others are in positive (hand prints) made by putting paint on the hand and applying it to the wall.

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-hands-prints

human hands and finger dots

Next a piece that reproduces an animal from one of the finest caves in the world, Altamira.  Altamira is considered the Sistine Chapel or Paleolithic art and was the first cave art to be discovered in 1879.  Nice to see this one singled out as its hard to concentrate at Altamira with so many on the same panel.

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Bison-Altamira

depiction of one of Altamira´s bison from it´s spectacular ceiling

Next a series depicting animals from various caves in France but that also gives you a good mix of many of the animals depicted in the caves in general.  Some of these are very common others less.  Can you identify them all without looking at the caption?

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Animals-France

Left to Right and Top to Bottom: Horse, Aurox (extinct ancient giant bull), Reindeer, Megaceros (extinct ancient giant deer), European Bison, Horse

Next, a series of animals from the caves in Northern Spain that Ludy is very familiar with as this is where he has been a guide for decades.

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Animals-France

a European Bison, wild herds are making a comeback in several reserves in Europe

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Deer-Finger-Paint

female deer using dotting technique

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Reindeer

Reindeer, long gone from southern Europe now but here in the ice age
Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Mamoth

Mammoth, another ice age animal now extinct. Note the red mark in its center. What is that? No matter what your answer it is right as no one really knows…

The following series of paintings are great becasue Ludy has taken engravings of cave art found in the caves and turned them into a painting.  When in the actual caves many people have a hard time seeing the engravings well as it takes a trained eye.  Here is some training!

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Mamoth

engravings of female deer

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Engravings

painted depictions of engravings of a goat, horse and bison

Mobile-Bison-Paleolithic-Cave-Art

Engraving of a bison. Curiously, this is a reproduction of an engraving found on a piece of bone, known as mobile art because it is easily transported. It really helps you in seeing the details in a piece that actually fits in the palm of your hand and hard to make out. Great one Ludy!

The last set, and I think the best, are a series of paintings that combine art from the caves of France and Spain but that you will see bear a lot of similarities.  Each watercolor has a common theme although the art art depicted is hundreds of kilometers in distance in many cases.  These pieces bring together the art that really gets you thinking when you go into the caves.   Really open to interpretation.  The great thing is everyone´s interpretation is correct as the artists died thousands of years ago and left no descriptions of what there intentions were in these depictions.

Anthropomorphic-Paleolithic-Cave-Art

Anthropomorphic figures, half human half animal…rituals… shaman… fantastic dreams ???? We will never know…

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Abstract

abstract geometric figures… a counting system.. communication… your guess is as good as mine or any anthropologist’s for that matter
Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Signs-Communication

abstract signs and symbols… what do you see (no not an exclamation point!)

Paleolithic-Cave-Art-Female-Vulvas

female body and body part representations to many people who see them… I would agree

This exhibit was a great way to see a lot of art in an area the size of a small house without having to travel the thousands of kilometers it would have taken to see it all in real life.  I am thankful to have it near me, as I am to have so many of the real caves here as well. Interested in seeing the caves of Northern Spain? Here is the best way to see them.  A great way to connect to the Europe´s oldest art.

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