His airy studio in located within the modern two-story house he shares with Maria and their dogs in Gaucín, an enchanting hillside village in the Andalusian mountains near Spain’s southernmost tip. The space has succeeded as a live-work space due to “the simplicity of its construction, the use of light through a large window that makes the landscape become part of the house itself, and finally, the adaptation to the topography of the landscape and the street,” says Zabaleta.
The walls of the open ground-floor workspace are white, the floor is concrete, and the space is flooded with light thanks to the double-height ceiling and an interior, glass-enclosed courtyard. Blond-wood partition walls and shelving echo the color of the wood easels at which Zabaleta works on his canvases. “I get up early and walk for an hour, alone, or sometimes with Maria and my three dogs,” says Zabaleta of his daily routine. “A bad habit of mine is not to have breakfast; the good thing is that I work every day, especially in the mornings. When winter comes, I like to light the fireplace and put on some music.”
A white steel staircase leads from the studio to a mezzanine bedroom, then up to the relaxed, open-plan living space with the picture window Zabaleta referred to that frames chockablock rooftops and a panoramic view of the mountains; a simple patio on the other side of the glass beckons, as does the surprise on the rooftop: an ultra-minimal swimming pool. Artwork, plants, and books – those distinctive signs of human life – are everywhere. Back in the studio, it’s easy to become entranced by the intriguing, sometimes apocalyptic paintings that line the studio walls, which are as hyper-realistic as they are otherworldly.
“I am not a painter, as a poet could be, of experience. My life is full of unforgettable moments, but there is something that makes me look in that other direction in which the human being seems to disappear,” says Zabaleta of his work. Clearly the studio is just what allows him to go there. “It doesn’t take much to paint; not in my case at least,” he says. “I have good light, even though the studio is not oriented to the north. Many times the light is too much and I close the window. Then in the darkness I turn on the electric light as if lighting a candle. Despite the white walls, it becomes the best refuge, in the best cave.”