He began his career in 1943 studying architecture at the University of Madrid, but in 1947 he dedicated himself to drawing and sculpture, and in 1948 he moved to Paris, then the world capital of the arts. Although he abandoned his studies, his work betrays his architectural training, showing an underlying sense of structural organization, as well as discipline in materials, planning of spatial relationships, and scale of elements.
Over the years, the artist turned to materials that showed his investigations into conceptual questions and metaphysical concerns. Chillida’s first stone and plaster creations oscillated between the human world and the natural world using figures and images of landscapes.
Consistently guided by the quality of space, density and rhythm, his works consider ways in which mass and volume contain space. His public works, which exist on a more massive scale, not only inhabit the space but also determine a qualifying space of their own.
His monumental sculptures, designed for both urban and more secluded spaces, are permanently installed internationally and constitute an important facet of his artistic production.
The main retrospectives of Chillida’s graphic and sculptural work have been mounted by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (1966); Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (1979); National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1979); Guggenheim Museum (1980); Miramar Palace, San Sebastián (1992); and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (1999).
Chillida received numerous awards, including the Grand International Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale (1958), the Kandinsky Prize (1960), the Carnegie Prize for Sculpture (1964), the Andrew Mellon Prize (1978, with Willem de Kooning). , the Grand Prix des Arts in France (1984) and the Jack Goldhill Prize from the Royal Academy of Arts in London (1996).
In 2000 he opened the Chillida-Leku Museum in San Sebastián, a monographic exhibition space.