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Ibiza, the creative island: why do all the artists come here?

Ibiza has been drawing artists, musicians, designers and creatives from all walks of life for decades to add to its huge pool of local native talent. what is it that makes the island such a fertile place, and a magnet for those seeking freedom of expression?
Ben Raworth

Looking through this issue of NATIV you will see that it is full-to-bursting with creativity. Creativity in arts and culture. Creativity in food and fitness. Creativity in design and ecology. Creativity in body, soul, mind and spirit. Creativity in fashion, in music, in technology. Ibiza is, and has been for decades, a creative hive, an incubator for ideas. But why does this small island produce such a huge explosion of creativity? Why do people from all over the world come here, where they find a local creative community flourishing and accepting and stimulating? 

At the end of World War II, Europe was in flux. Many countries were rebuilding and had a conservative, inward-looking post-war mindset. In the early 1950s Ibiza became a vibrant refuge for many writers, poets and artists from all over the world, and indeed mainland Spain. On the island they found a diverse and exploding local artistic community who accepted this new injection of creativity, stimulating a flourishing creative environment. 

French film-maker Barbet Schroeder’s Ibiza-shot More (1968).

Many years before the tourism boom, this community of artists, photographers, writers, architects, film-makers and craftspeople developed a loosely connected network of shared ideas, eclectic influences and the kind of stimulating contemporary competition that produces original work. But why Ibiza? How did this small island of just 572km2 become such a febrile melting pot of ideas? 

In his book Ibiza Mon Amour philosopher Yves Michaud notes: “The myth of Ibiza goes back to the 1930s, when artists from Berlin came to stay on the island, in particular the German writer Walter Benjamin and the Berlin artist Raoul Hausmann. They discovered the island’s frugal beauty. The place was very poor in those days, and artists could live there for almost nothing. It was also difficult to get to, which made it good protection when you were escaping Nazism, as Hausmann was.” This isolation was severe: during the 1940s there wasn’t even a connection to Barcelona. In the early 1950s this all began to change. 

Singer and actress Nina Hagen performs at her “wedding” in August 1987.

Ibiza at the start of the 20th century was rural, underdeveloped and seemed disconnected from the modern world. These things made it attractive as a refuge for European intellectuals and artists as soon as communications with the outside world began to open up after 1945. After years of war and isolation, local and Spanish artists returned in great volume. International artists saw Ibiza as inexpensive, with an inspiring landscape and benevolent weather that also made it attractive. Put simply, even a short holiday was enough to inspire an artist to stay, often buying or renting what were then very cheap fincas, farmsteads and homes dotted across the island but close enough so that people could remain in touch and exchange ideas. 

In 1951 – the first year that visitors were counted – the total number of incomers was 14,000. That number escalated rapidly throughout the decade and into the 1960s. Artists, writers, hipsters, bohemians and bon vivants of all sorts began arriving on the island, lured by the gorgeous beaches, mild weather, local culture and a tolerant atmosphere of live and let live, where everybody could reinvent a new identity for themselves. This freedom is obviously attractive to creatives.

One of avant-garde collective Grupo Ibiza 59’s posters.

In 1959 the avant-garde collective Grupo Ibiza 59 was formed. It included Erwin Bechtold, Hans Laabs, Egon Neubauer, Katja Meirowsky and Heinz Trökes from Germany; Robert W. Munford and Erwin Broner from the States; Swede Bertil Sjöberg and Spaniard Antonio Ruiz. The group produced wildly different works, but the key was they all had room to flourish in their chosen fields. Broner, for instance, was an architect who developed projects around the island combining traditional Ibizan architecture with modern elements.

In 1962 Antoni Marí Ribas “Portmany”, Vicent Calbet, Ferrer Guasch and Toni Pomar formed Grupo Puget. During the ’60s and ’70s artist Don Kunkel, who had first come to Ibiza in 1958, played an important role in activating Ibiza as an artistic centre, along with fellow American Carl van der Voort, and his gallery dedicated to contemporary art. By the mid-’60s beatniks and hippies saw an explosion of experimental creativity: rustic and pop art, vernacular and abstract, jazz and flamenco, rock and acoustic music, peasants and fishermen mingling with artist and intellectuals. In 1964, the same year the Rolling Stones stayed in San Antonio, the first Ibiza art biennial took place. Later, in 1969, the first contemporary art museum in Spain was founded in Ibiza Town. 

Shoe designer Patrick Cox. 

In 1968 director Barbet Schroeder made the movie More, with a soundtrack by Pink Floyd, here. Joni Mitchell composed much of her seminal album Blue when she stayed on the island. Over the past 30 years creatives from many fields have made Ibiza their base, from Damien Hirst to Mario Testino and Patrick Cox. The dance scene that exploded in the ’80s did so in an atmosphere of experimentation, exploration and acceptance. Today it is hard to imagine a similar small space where you could find a developer of coloured braille, an internationally recognized baker, a world-class jewellery-maker, a creator of stunning ceramics, and a clutch of Michelin-starred chefs, to name just a few examples, all packed together. 

Bob Marley arriving at the island of Ibiza. 

This diversity, freedom of expression, good communication and room for experimentation are what makes Ibiza such a creative melting pot. But the island in changing. Ecological concerns are producing new ideas; creativity is springing from new connections, like those between producers and chefs. The environmental changes we face are stimulating new creativity in architecture and design, and artists are using new materials with new messages for a new era. We’re seeing movement away from the complications of modern life toward a new simplicity. It is vital to Ibiza and to us all that the roots, freedom and creative inspiration that the island offers continue to be cherished and protected. 


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