Alberto Gutiérrez is an unusual man. He is, perhaps, unique. In a fast-paced world, Alberto has led a slow life, away from the thrills and spills of modern society. In the hills of northern Nicaragua, he plies his trade, pottering around among the rocks and trees. Alberto is not a farmer. It is not the arable land in that hilly countryside that consumes him, but the rocky cliffs. Alberto is no ordinary man; he is the stone man.
A self-proclaimed hermit, Alberto was inspired by God to move up into the hills in 1977. He has spent the past 39 years proudly carving images into the rock face and, as he says, ‘leaving an artistic legacy’. Wizened and white haired, he is an eccentric character, greeting visitors with a warm smile and always happy to give them a guided tour. He may pluck a sweet lemon from one of the trees and insist that his visitors tuck in. Hospitality is a natural trait. As, it seems, is humility. He is visibly amazed at his growing popularity, proudly showing all the signatures in his guest book. His friendly demeanour is infectious.
While Alberto is an entertaining attraction, people also come to see his art. The smaller pieces are plentiful, but slightly underwhelming. However, the main mural is a colossal piece of work, stretching along about 40 metres of stone. Alberto explains that his work tells a story, each little section a particular episode. Animals are prominent, with elephants, jaguars and snakes his particular favourites. Unsurprisingly, religious imagery is everywhere.
Sadly, the years of isolation have taken their toll on Alberto. He is not quite all there. His eyes do not focus as one imagines they once did and his dialogue is perceptibly repetitive. During an hour-long tour he will point out the ‘beautiful orchids’ on at least fifteen separate occasions, and continually instruct visitors to take photos so that they might ‘take a memory away with them’. His quirky eccentricities are amusing and add value to the visit.
The ‘Alberto Gutiérrez Experience’ is an odd one. There is no prescribed way to find him, no organised means of visiting. And yet, the one guarantee is that Alberto will be there. Perhaps working with his flint, or wandering around his hilly, tree-lined abode; perhaps contentedly surveying his immaculate view. Alberto may soon be gone, but his work will live on. He has achieved his wish of leaving a legacy. Alberto Gutiérrez is an unusual man.