Of Norwegian ancestry, Rolph Blakstad was born in Vancouver, Canada. A graduate of the University of British Columbia in Fine Arts and Architecture, he is not only a prize-winning documentary-filmmaker but the driving force behind Blakstad Design Consultants. His serene inspired architectural designs are distinctly noticeable across Ibiza. In this first part of a two-part feature, we spoke with Rolph about his earlier work as set designer and filmmaker, his travels and about how he came to live in Ibiza.
At the start of the 1950’s Rolph travelled round Europe. Having won a much-commended scholarship, he studied Medieval and Renaissance art, architecture and craft techniques in Italy. Moving to London in 1952, where he worked for the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments – an archaeological artist – his eye was trained in the art of examination of old buildings. During this time he also took the opportunity to travel, with his wife, round Europe, visiting museums and galleries. The Christmas of 1951 he fell in love with the island of Capri, however it was not this Mediterranean island that was to captivate and capture him truly, for we know that was Ibiza.
Rolph returned to Canada in 1953 at the behest of the Head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to become a set designer, where he studied under Nikolas Soloviov, designer for the great Russian film director Eisenstein. Rolph was trained in the Eisenstein system of visualisation and design (interestingly Eisenstein’s father was an architect). The first set he designed was for a Joseph Conrad play in an African jungle – no mean feat in the winter of Vancouver. With ingenuity, intelligence and clever use of optics, Rolph created the seemingly impossible. Designing sets for all manner of things from plays to operas, Rolph learnt much about abstract and naturalistic udesign, and about fitting design to the theme, skills that were to serve him well in his later work.
Despite great success through the grey winter rain of Vancouver visions of the Mediterranean kept calling and, inspired by the book by Elliot Paul ‘Life and Death of a Spanish Town’, he wanted to visit Ibiza for himself. He took a-years leave of absence from the CBC and in a stroke of luck (you may say fate) having traded a years worth of paintings for $1,500 (at the time equivalent to one-years living) Rolph and his wife set out for the Mediterranean and for Ibiza.
They travelled down the Costa del Sol, at a time when there were still fishing boats on the beach, and through Granada. From there they progressed down to Alicante, taking the boat to Mallorca and Ibiza. They landed as day broke for the first time in Ibiza in 1956 and they at once fell in love with Ibiza, Rolph recalls that they were ‘enchanted’. However the boat they were on was en route to Mallorca. Rolph wanted to ‘check out the place of the writer Robert Grave’ (they latterly became good friends). For him, Mallorca was not a patch on Ibiza and they were keen to get back, which they did a whole week later on the next ferry crossing.
Rolph and his wife integrated into the artistic community of Ibiza, making friends with many of the people he had read about in Elliot Paul’s book. They become friendly with US gangster and painter Charlie Orloff, who introduced Rolph to the wife of the Mayor of Ibiza, Lupe Tur de Montis. They then became very friendly with the Tur de Montis family, renting a ten-roomed house, over two floors, with views onto the street and the port for only €8 a month (650 pesetas) from Lupe Tur de Montis. Rolph remembers also at his time of arrival there were perhaps only 60 foreigners on the Island (half of whom were from mainland Spain) and only 12 motorcars.
The rest, as they say, is history and the Blakstads have been resident here ever since. That is not to say Rolph’s travelling stopped, far from it. The very same year he landed in Ibiza (1956) was also the year Morocco celebrated its independence and Rolph and his wife went. It was in Fez that Rolph discovered the Moroccan art and gardens that were latterly to become definitive of his architectural design. His work as a documentary filmmaker for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during the later part of the 1950’s and the 1960’s took him across Europe to Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, India and Kashmir and even the Galapagos Islands, to name but a few. But at the start of the 1970s Rolph retired from film and turned his hand and eye back to his first love, that of architecture and design.
Text: Ruth Osborn
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