Javier Medina: weaving modernity into tradition
Writer Bev Tucker introduces us to the Spaniard who is spinning a new aesthetic with esparto grass.
After moving to Madrid as a young man “with dreams of becoming a successful artisan and restorer” Javier Medina set up his first studio in a garage he renovated in the style of an old-school workshop in the capital’s bohemian Malasaña district. Medina weaves with esparto grass, a traditional craft native to Spain’s expansive inland Extremadura region where he grew up. For centuries, esparto has been plaited and woven to make everyday functional items and furnishings, often used as Roman blinds to shield from the harsh heat of Spain’s summer sun.
It was here, in his studio, that the animal heads he dubs ‘ecological trophies’, captured the imagination of actress Sarah Jessica Parker. One famous tourist selfie later and he was on the map. Using the tools and methods taught to him by his grandfather, Javier puts a contemporary interpretation to the old ancestral ways.
“I have always liked creative work and art and craft techniques. As a child, I remember my grandfather often working with natural fibres on the patio of his house. I first learned from him, then I studied restoration with Marisa del Real when I arrived in Madrid.
I was born in Badajoz, Extremadura, a beautiful region in Spain very close to Portugal. I grew up at my family’s house with my parents and grandparents, and I always remembered being fascinated watching my father and grandfather at the patio braiding esparto grass, and creating all kinds of things made with natural fibres – chairs, baskets… anything that we needed for the house, but to me, those things went far beyond utility. What was truly special was how those “objects” embodied my family’s memories and showed who we were. That is what truly inspired me to be an artisan.
By going back to my origins I try to create pieces that have a powerful story behind them, filled with memories and history, similar to the ones that my family's pieces had.
I have had all kinds of jobs that had nothing to do with crafts or art; I was a clothing store manager, I managed a gym in Badajoz, I worked at a shoe store… I’m a self-taught artisan. I do not have any formal artistic educational background, but I have always been passionate about craft and art. I started to create these animal heads and other pieces such as mirrors when I moved to Madrid and started to play around with natural fibres. I made some mirrors for myself but all my friends loved them and I ended up selling all of them, so after a little while, I decided to quit my job and give it a try. I am very fortunate that now I can finally say that I am a full-time artisan. I worked by myself at first when I just opened my workshop in Malasaña, but currently, and thanks to some past and upcoming projects, two more people are working with me.
I really wanted to work with natural fibers, since it was something that I have been surrounded by my whole life, but I also wanted to use them differently and create something more artistic, rather than baskets and furniture… that is how I started making animal heads. I love that my pieces bring happiness but also, with the trophy heads, I love the idea of creating a beautiful, ‘ecological’ piece that doesn’t harm any animal.
My guides in my work are the unknown talented, hardworking artisans who teach me the techniques that have almost been lost and that we are trying to recover. The artisans I’ve been lucky enough to meet in the small Spanish villages are truly inspiring, and my greatest teachers. I’m especially close to the craft makers and artisans in Extremadura. I adore all the beautiful work with copper, embroidery, lace, ceramics, weaving and more, which express my land and its character, our customs, and traditions.
I would love to think that my work falls into the “artistic-craft “genre where the line between the two words is blurred, resulting in work that requires skills but also artistic abilities, imagination, and unique perspective.
There is a lot more interest in high-quality traditional craft and audiences are more willing to buy products that are interesting, individual, and handmade, pieces that have a bit of soul, have a story, and a personal side that makes them more precious. I am interested in promoting a return to the unique and the handmade.
I’m excited about a very special and unique piece I created in collaboration with Jonathan Anderson (Loewe) that stands more than three meters high for an exhibition in Shanghai this coming September.”
Javier runs courses from his studio workshop (something for our holiday wish lists, once we are permitted to travel again) during which he likes to introduce students to other contemporary Spanish craftsmen and the artisan product-based cuisine at his favourite restaurants. “The workshops represent my passion for the simple and authentic things in my environment; heritage, excellence, creativity and people who speak and transmit these values with passion. Everyone is welcome. If you visit Madrid please stop by!”
Javier Medina’s work is sold through a number of stores and galleries in Spain, Europe, the USA and Asia or from his workshop at Calle el Escorial, 28 Madrid, Spain. Find him on social media @javiersanchezmedina.
For local weaving courses keep an eye on Design Afrika’s social media pages @design.afrika or you can email them firstname.lastname@example.org to pre-book a slot for their upcoming weaving workshops.
Words: Bev Tucker
Production and editing: J-P de la Chaumette
Images: Javier Medina
Journalist Bev Tucker grew up in various far-flung corners of Africa and now divides her time between South Africa and Ireland. Before she was a journalist she worked in very posh Swiss hotels where she trained in hospitality and learned to clean a bathroom properly. She qualified as an estate agent because she loved houses. She knows the art of pouring the perfect Guinness (long, long ago she was a bartender in a Belfast pub) but it is a wasted skill because she detests the stuff. She has not been to Japan and is quite irritated with herself about this. She became a journalist after she realized it was the most varied, interesting and fun job possible if you can’t be David Attenborough. She has traveled a fair bit and loves Africa more than any other place on earth. You can find more of Bev’s writing at @safariandliving