Leather Craftsman - Jose Luis Bazán Fernández

Master Craftsman Jose Luis Bazán © Michelle Chaplow
Master Craftsman Jose Luis Bazán

Leather Craftsman - Jose Luis Bazán Fernández

Interview with artisan leather craftsman Jose Luis Bazán Fernández

Known as “the alchemist of leather”, José Luis Bazán Fernández is a third-generation master craftsman. With a life dedicated to working with leather, this renowned artisan was awarded the Premio Nacional de Artesanía (National Craftsmanship Prize) in 2021, as well as Andalusian Certified Master Craftsman. A collaborator with luxury fashion brand Loewe, José Luis’s works have been shown in France, Portugal, Morocco and India . At his workshop-home is the tiny Sierra de Grazalema village of Benaocaz, in 2022 Michelle Chaplow of Andalucia.com talked to this artisan about his techniques and what inspires him

AC: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, José. How long have you been working in this studio?

JLBF: I have lived and worked in Benaocaz for 43 years, but I was born in Ubrique. I’m the third generation of leather craftsmen in the town: my father was a master, my grandfather was a master, and I am a master too .

AC: What does “master” mean? Are there any qualifications, or is it something passed down from generation to generation?

JLBF: There is a trade level qualification, but in 2005 our Craftsmen Federation created the Ley de Artesanía de Andalucía [Craft Law 15/2005], which includes a professional qualification [“For the purposes of this law, crafts are considered to be the profit-making economic activity of creation, production, transformation and restoration of products, by means of unique manufacturing systems in which personal intervention is decisive for the control of the elaboration and finishing process”]. In 2021 I was awarded the National Craftsmanship Prize (Premio Nacional de Artesanía), as well as Andalusian Certified Master Craftsman.

The work of José Luis Bazán Fernández © Michelle Chaplow
The work of José Luis Bazán Fernández © Michelle Chaplow

AC: Congratulations. Are the pieces of art that you create normally intended for museums or for sale to the public?

JLBF: I’ve had many teachers who have influenced me. When I was a child, my father taught me to look beyond the typical leather goods of the area. I started learning from the most highly skilled masters in Ubrique; then I went abroad. I worked with masters both inside and outside Spain, and I learned many different techniques. Then, with all that knowledge, I started to develop my own style, creating different objects. And I got to know leather itself, and what its limits are, so I could go further - for example with sculpture, which is something I really enjoy. My works are sold in galleries and directly to the public.

AC: Where does the leather itself come from?

JLBF: The leather I use comes mainly from cattle, as well as goats and sheep. Some of it is from the north of Spain, and I also use Italian or Canadian leather.

AC: Do you have pieces in museums?

JLBF: Yes, I do. My pieces have been featured in exhibitions all over the world. I also work with big international brands: some of them I can mention, for example Loewe, but others I can't because of confidentiality contracts. I mainly do exhibitions at European level; soon I will be exhibiting at the Thyssen Museum in Madrid. I have clients all over the world, especially in Los Angeles; in Bangkok, and elsewhere in Asia; and many in Europe: Paris, Holland, Denmark, Sweden. In Spain, I sell in Ibiza, Mallorca and Madrid. But my production is small; they are limited editions.

The art of minimalism and simplicity  © Michelle Chaplow
The art of minimalism and simplicity © Michelle Chaplow

AC: What is the most expensive piece you’ve ever sold?

JLBF: The price of the project depends on how long it takes; there are projects that can take months. There are small pieces priced at around 200 euros, while larger pieces can go up to 5,000 euros.

I have a current project with a hotel in Sotogrande, in which we are going to create table mats, cutlery holders, aprons... all in leather, embossed in Arabic style, for the restaurant. It is a special hotel – the concept includes live music, and cutting Spanish ham and cheese in front of the client, for example.

I have suggested to the head chef that we do a collaboration - a series of bowls made of leather, in which the flavour of the ham and cheese would combine with that of the bowl itself. After finishing the meal, that piece would be stained by the fat from the food, and would become a personalized present for the guest. It is a piece of art that is created in the moment by your own food.

I have also proposed creating a leather mural of an oak tree for the exterior wall of the building, so that people can take pictures. And I have suggested the idea of a space for creation and teaching, where the finest artisans in Spain can hold classes for students, as well as using it as a workshop.

AC: Where do you get your inspiration from?

JLBF: From nature.

Benaocaz village (the name comes from the Arabic Ocaz family, Ben meaning “son of”).     © Michelle Chaplow
Benaocaz village (the name comes from the Arabic Ocaz family, Ben meaning “son of”) © Michelle Chaplow.

AC: Do you think that leather work in Andalusia is sufficiently valued in Spain, and internationally?

JLBF: In my case it would be wrong for me to say no, since I am recognized at an international level. I belong to the Michelangelo Foundation and other associations, and I have participated in many exhibitions all around the globe.

In addition, I do collaborations with other craftsmen and artists. I work with people who use wood, glass, plaster and ceramics.

AC: Normally leather is flexible, but these leather bowls you create are very hard. How do you achieve that rigidity?

JLBF: Until almost 60 years ago, the tanning of leather was done naturally, using product of vegetable origin, like tannins; everything was taken from nature. That is the leather I use.

AC: But how do you make the leather so rigid?

JLBF: By applying a series of techniques that are professional secrets; water-based techniques. These are things that were done in prehistoric times. You also have to rediscover and learn techniques that other masters have used in the past.

AC: And now everybody is talking about sustainability...

JLBF: Of course, I also take that in account, but I´m not a craftsman who manufactures on a large scale. The leather I use is certified to prove that there are no chemicals used. My production is small; it has a public that appreciates a high-quality piece.

AC: You say with an open heart, that you are rich because you are doing exactly what you want to do.

JLBF: You can be rich financially, but be miserable. I make money from what I do. But my wealth is that I can choose what I want to do. Another thing that I enjoy very much is teaching. I dedicate a large part of the year to this. My courses are personalized, with one student only for a week or two. Of course my prices are not affordable for everyone. But fortunately, I have no shortage of students.

AC: Do you like to travel?

JLBF: My work can travel on my behalf, I am very content here, at home in Andalucia.

AC: Thank you for inviting us into your studio and giving us an insight into your work. It has been a privilege to learn more about the world of a master craftsman.


Living in Andalucia