GRAIN BY GRAIN

Elie Homangu's Last Supper took less than a week to create.

One of those friends is Elie Homangu, Prian’s good childhood friend from Romania. Homangu’s spot is about 50 meters down from Prian. This month, Homangu created a large medieval scene with a large, Romanian-style castle surrounded by houses and a small village.

Homangu is thankful for Prian’s invitation to work in Valencia, as gaining a permit is the hardest part of the job. “Spain is the easiest country to get a permit in, though it’s still a long process.”

In most European countries, the beaches are controlled, and artists must apply for permits to build large sand structures such as these. The process takes anywhere from three to six months and must be renewed every three months.

Homangu and Prian don’t feel a sense of competition, rather they use each other for support and inspiration and marketing. It helps to have multiple sculptures because it raises more attention and money, Prian said. They help each other when needed and usually travel back and forth to Romania together.

Dumitru Nitru is the oldest "sand master" on this stretch of beach.

Dumitru Nitru is the oldest “sand master” on this stretch of beach.

Fifty meters in the other direction from Prian is another sand structure, the work of Dumitru Nitru.

Nitru, the oldest sand master on the beach, offers a unique hybrid structure that pays tribute to centuries of Romanian and Transylvanian style.

“No copying!” Nitru stresses. “I never copy myself. [It is] always a new design.”

While their structures are visually similar, Nitru is a sharp contrast to the younger artists. Nitru worked as an auto mechanic for 10 years, but knew that his passion was art, more specifically, sand sculpture. He left his job, and took on the new career.

After working with sand for more than 50 years now, he has become a bit more jaded. As he puffed back on his cigarette, Nitru describes a career full of success, poverty, awards, triumphs and failures. His wife, who serves as his assistant, interjected to remind him that the real reason he builds is “for the money.” At this point in their lives—and in this economy—this career is all they have.

“Sometimes you get 50 Euros in a day, and other days you get nothing,” Nitru said. Most tourists pass the artist by, but some toss a Euro on the small mat in appreciation of his work. But, he laments, “There are less and less tourists each year, and making money is getting harder.”

“Some days I wonder why [I bother],” Nitru said. “But I’ve never given up. You can’t.”

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