In late 2021, Spanish mineralogist and painter Juan Antonio Robles Muñoz – Robles as he used to be called – passed away at the age of 58 in his hometown of La Unión in Murcia.
Robles was well known not only at home, through the numerous mineralogical exhibitions and fairs, but also abroad after his recurring participations in the latest editions of one of the most important international fairs, the one celebrated every year at the end of June in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines in the Alsatian region of France. Perhaps the absence of the stall, crowded with samples and paintings deliberately so chaotic, could go unnoticed among the thousands of tables that are crowded together, one behind the other along the short paving that connects one of the main streets of the town with the large exhibition hall. Certainly you will feel the lack of its owner, able to animate it and make it an inevitable point of attraction of the event, where I loved talking in Spanish with him about minerals, but above all about politics, our life and then football, especially since Robles had been a talented center-forward of yesteryear. On his bench one could always find some pleasant mineralogical or pictorial surprise of his Sierra Cartagenera: in both cases, samples and paintings strongly imbued with his strong personality as a mineralogist painter.
Robles knew and loved making foreigners aware of the mines and minerals of the La Unión-Cartagena district, a region certainly not easy to cross and visit, inexorably marked by the many mines, scattered in places made famous by the cinematic settings of the “spaghetti western”, characterized from the inhospitable climate and nature,becoming even more hostile due to their state of neglect and obscure danger.
I fondly remember the story of a mutual friend who met Robles for the first time during a mineralogical excursion. Suddenly a silver gray van stopped with the window down and from inside a stentorian voice shouted at him “hey you! do you like minerals? “. The somewhat surprised and cautiously affirmative response from his friend prompted an immediate “… so follow me!”.
This is the image of Robles’s character, the one who without fear of denial could be defined as a tough guy, openly daring, extremely generous and respectful of people and minerals that, both of them, aroused strong and positive emotions in him. In addition to minerals, he had the hobby of painting pictures in which he imagined other worlds and in which crystals were also an integral part of the landscape and of the painting technique of oil on canvas.
The combination of nature and art found in him an interpreter in the field, in the sense that each of his paintings represented situations and sensations experienced during his frequent mineralogical missions. Above all, the representation of the mining environment, made even more wild and desolate than reality, evokes the total abstraction of the author in his total immersion in the crystallized universe of minerals through his fabulous kaleidoscope of shapes and colors. “Robles el pintor”, as he liked to define himself by handing you his business card a little bitterly, managed to give shape to his artistic inspiration with phantasmagoric creations of worlds transfigured by the intensity of the deep bond, physical and mental, with the brutality of work in the mine – very hard even when done for pleasure – and with the beauty of crystals, amazing far beyond the most extravagant sci-fi dream.
During the meetings with Robles, always proud of his table full of passion and wonder, I was able to observe the crescendo of his pictorial style towards increasingly daring abstract horizons, while maintaining faith in the same subject (the mining site) and in the technique of alternating brush strokes of oil in strong and warm colors with fragments of minerals that seem to be crystallized prematurely on the canvas itself. Over the years, the evolution of Robles’s artistic vein struck me emotionally, from the beginnings with the simple and bare reproduction of the mining scenarios theater of his experiences as a prospector to arrive at the complexity of sensory emotions that the places themselves and the their minerals transmit to his mind.
The mineralogical passion and artistic inspiration find in Robles, both mineralogist and artist, one of the many facets in which the dedication to the Earth sciences is manifested by a range of people at least as wide as cultural and social diversification the whole humanity can offer. For the same reason that Robles exalted his sport, football, considering it an interclass expression and independent of the economic and cultural position of the footballer, he equally rightly thought it happened for mineralogy, to which any human being can adhere and contribute with great satisfaction, and results.
When I met him and immediately bought one of his paintings, to my question about what his pictorial inspiration was, he replied “óleos, minerales y mucha pasión por ambos” (oil colors, minerals and a lot of passion for both). After our heated discussions of politics, mineralogy and football, he often concluded by saying that, despite everything, life was the most precious mineral one could possess. Robles did not lose this preciously unique mineral, but simply bequeathed it to others, along with his paintings, as a splendid example of a collection that must be imitated and continued forever.