2016 has been voted by most as a garbage fire year, but by any measure it was great for Okuda San Miguel. The Spanish artist had a full year of continent hopping to create large scale murals on buildings and trains as well as pieces housed in gallery exhibitions. Every place he touched he left his energetic surrealist work that seems to breathe life into its surroundings. Using a distinct geometrical style, Okuda combines imagery of man and nature, classic and contemporary all, to spread his message of positivity and cross-cultural appreciation.
In the midst of his solo-exhibition at StolenSpace gallery in London, and an exhibition during Madrid Art Week, Okuda took a break to talk to us about his world-wide projects, his inspiration, and his connection to, of all mediums, embroidery.
The last time we talked to you, you had completed Kaos Temple. Since then you have been all over the world. What were some of the highlights from the last year?
Last year was amazing. I think all projects were incredible but the best would be the Hong Kong building, the second church in Morocco, and the OKUDA SAN MIGUEL Square in Arcugnano, Italy. Gallery works maybe the New Coliseum solo show in Underdogs Lisbon and the No Commission group show in NYC curated by Swiss Beatz.
In 2016, you worked with ArtUnitedUs and painted trains in Kiev in celebration for the Ukrainian Independence Day. What was the energy like in the city at that time?
Most times the feedback and emotions I get from people because of my work in a certain country is more important than the money. At that time I believed my art to be part of the freedom after the revolution. The media showed that my colors gave positivity to the people and transformed the spaces into a good place. At the same time it comes back to the graffiti roots of 80s NYC subway. Because the train keeps going around the city. Very emotional and happy project.
“The embroidery is very emotional because I do it with my mum and sister. It helps strengthen our connection while I am traveling around the world.”
This past year you also painted mural in places like Morocco for the British Council sponsored Street Art Caravane event and Arkansas with JUSTKIDS, do you find a big difference in the way public art is received depending on where you are? If so, where has been your favorite place to paint?
Yes! Each country is different. But usually I received the same positive feedback. My favorite place to paint would be new cities in Africa, Asia, or South America. Always love to invade new countries with my art. But in those projects from last year I got to transform completely abandoned spaces. My Universal Chapel in Arkansas is now an Art School and after painting the Moroccan Church a lot of Muslim people came to me to take pictures and started to go to chill around. It is incredible how art puts no limits between religions and cultures.
Your solo-exhibition, Lost Olympus, opened at StolenSpace last month. For those of us that couldn’t make it while it was up, could you describe the work that was on display?
Pop surrealism from the streets, 10 paintings in different sizes with fluorescent landscapes, multicolored geometrics, classic and modern patterns, ornamental fabrics, lost human shapes, plastic animals, brick skins, skulls, and zebra faces. One losing glass window about my own skull. Two sculptures: one skull on the wall and another in the middle of the space about a rainbow cage with human face form. And an embroidery made of wool on canvas that I did with my mom and sister, representing a refugee.
Lost Olympus re-examines Greek mythology, what type of research did you do for this body of work? What led you to focus on this theme?
I never do sketches, I just take pictures in my travels or from the internet of these classic sculptures. I love to include those ones in my own world and paintings and make them interact with my animals, trees and strange characters. I love the contrast between the classical and the contemporary works.
For this exhibition you made a move from paint. Specifically, embroidery in Refugee Goddesses and glasswork in Skull Mutations III. What prompted this progression into other materials?
I always love to use new materials and feel something different doing it. The embroidery is very emotional because I do it with my mum and sister. It helps strengthen our connection while I am traveling around the world.
You have said before that in your work you create your own iconographic language. Looking at your array of colors, is there any specific reasons why you use certain colors? Have you created your own color language?
Yes. I build the volume of the faces or architecture only with chromatic circles and without fadings. I make it my own harmonic way and always consider the hot and cold colors.
An ongoing theme in your work has been the exploration of existential crisis and the falsehood of capitalism. Are there any particular current events that have inspired you to reference these themes in your recent work?
I think all current incidents and events with politicians, corruption, and how education makes children to be a piece of the fucking system. And all my travels where I meet all different religions and cultures show me that everything is the same but with different interpretations depending where you grow up. My karma says that it is more important to be a good person and try to help others than to have faith in something or someone.
“I never wanted to go from streets to galleries. I only did what my heart told me. This is the most important.”
Your work has literally taken you to higher places. Creating a tall piece like Rainbow Thief in Hong Kong seems like it must have been an exhilarating experience. What was it like to complete something so large? Do you have any sketchy moments when being up high?
The highest buildings make me especially happy. In this case, I remember that I had fever and headache in the second day working and I couldn’t drive the machine. I had to give commands to the driver on the ground because of the building’s height.
In the beginning of your art career you started doing graffiti. What advice would you give to our readers that want to go from graffiti to galleries?
I never wanted to go from streets to galleries. I only did what my heart told me. This is the most important. I need creating to be happy and to feel good. It was a very soft evolution in 20 years. I only have to tell them to do art for themselves not for the money. Art is bigger than money.
Any projects on the horizon that you would like to share?
Now I am producing new artworks in my studio for my next solo show in Corey Helford gallery LA and for some art fairs. I am very happy because I have a very full 2017 schedule of incredible new projects in USA, Asia and Europe. Stay tuned. More news soon in my instagram @okudart.