How we met: Delfina Entrecanales & Mark Wallinger - 'I don't know anything about art. But he explains it to me, and then I get it'

 

Mark Wallinger, 55

The sculptor first gained prominence at Charles Saatchi's 'Young British Artists II' show in 1993. He came to the fore with 'Ecce Homo', his statue of Christ for Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth in 1999; in 2007, he won the Turner Prize for 'State Britain', a recreation of Brian Haw's war-protest camp outside Parliament

Space and time are the two hardest things to find as an artist, especially somewhere as expensive as London, so I will always be grateful for Delfina['s patronage]. I had been in a studio building on the New Kent Road in Southwark for eight years or so when I had to evacuate the place in a great hurry, in 1996. I had friends at her studio and they told me there was a vacant space in her complex at Bermondsey Street. I'd heard great things about the place, so I moved in.

Delfina was like this beneficent spirit floating round the place and I hit it off with her. There were some great independent older women in my family and I recognised that in her: she was charismatic, straight-talking and feisty, peppering her sentences with colourful swearwords, which I found rather enjoyable.

I put everything I had in storage and because I now had an empty studio, it felt like an opportunity to start again; I'm still grateful for that fresh start.

Artists can keep themselves to themselves, so it was a wonderful idea of hers to have a very nice canteen there offering lunch for £1: at 12:30pm every day hungry artists would pile in, sharing ideas, gossip and regurgitating Fast Show jokes, and I started meeting her for lunch there too. She has a fascinating past, with her family's involvement in the Spanish Civil War and how she came to be in Britain.

Delfina's a religious person and during that period we talked a lot about the approaching millennium. She had a sense that people were being evasive of the meaning behind it – like it was simply a matter of so many zeros rolling over a car's mileometer – just don't mention the "J" [Jesus] word, we joked. So she liked the fact I was approaching that issue with Ecce Homo, and she encouraged me to do it. It's a part of the human condition to need to be nurtured and Delfina made me feel special, which is indicative of the kind of woman she is.

I've never been happier than the time I spent at those studios, but by 2005, it was time to make way for others. I'm a trustee of her organisation now, and I love how, when we meet up, she still gets exercised by other people's complacency, that they waste time; she doesn't understand why people in the art world don't just get on and make something.

What I love about Delfina most is that she collects artists, not art: unlike some patrons, she's interested in art as a human thing rather than a commodity. She's still relatively unknown because people are known by their works; her works are the artists themselves – and she's enabled hundreds of us.

Delfina Entrecanales CBE, 87

Born in southern Spain in 1927, Entrecanales was sent by her father to Oxford to learn English, and escape the Franco regime. For the past 40 years, she has helped the careers of more than 500 artists, including Mark Wallinger, Tacita Dean and Martin Creed, by creating spaces for them to share and debate ideas

I remember Mark was here in my studios, but I don't remember exactly the first time I met him. There were so many artists! There were 34 studios, and all these [visiting] foreigners as well, so I would run around all day. I used to go to the studios practically every day, and I'd meet them all for lunch [at the Delfina Café].

Mark was quite quiet – he was very clever, but quiet, and he was friendly and warm. He was also quite tidy – I was like a hawk [about tidiness], I would walk around and tell them all off. Inside the studios, they could do what they liked – but outside, no. I was always very neurotic about not having mess.

I don't know anything about art. I don't understand it even now, so while I was very impressed by what Mark was doing, he had to explain it to me. My first impression of things is, "I don't get it!" But then he explains it to me, and then I get it.

One day I went into Mark's studio and there was this work called Angel [a film work Wallinger made in 1997] – it is on an escalator, and it was about angels, and about St Peter. I was a very lapsed Catholic, but at that time I began to go back to church, and I remember going in and talking to him about it. People could never understand how I had gone back to God, but at least with him, I could connect.

I haven't been to his [current] studio, but I sat next to him when I went to Buckingham Palace [at the lunch after she was awarded a CBE in 2012], and we reconnected then. My daughter is very keen on what he does, and she was talking to him lots.

I have seen him a few times since – he's one of my advisers at my foundation now – and we talk mostly about the past. When Mark was here the other day, we looked at the list of people [who had been at the studios at the same time], and I think I remember more people than he does! When I see their names, I remember them. Jane and Louise Wilson, Tacita Dean, Gary Webb, Mark Alexander, Glenn Brown… That's what keeps me going – all the artists! Meeting inspiring people, and inspiring other people. My relationship with the artists is why I've done it; all the other things, I don't care about it. I am like a grandmother, to all of them.

The Delfina Foundation re-opened in January after expanding to become the largest artist residency provider in London. Its inaugural exhibition, 'The Politics of Food', runs until 27 February (delfinafoundation.com). Mark Wallinger is participating in 'Real Feelings: Thinking in Film' at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, from today to 27 April (kw-berlin.de)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before