From a train track from Santander to impregnate the world with its colors. Okuda’s career sums up the rebirth of urban art in Spain and in the world. From the walls to be the last big thing of contemporary art.
Okuda’s color revolution is unstoppable. The Cantabrian artist based in Madrid lives a moment of creative effervescence. He has been working in his studio for two months, but his body asks him for street, to rise on the asphalt to transform the gray reality of the cities into a unique universe that crosses borders.
His last expo in Madrid, Theriomorphism IV, in Kreisler Gallery, has made him a commissar of urban talent, who like him, imagine the city of the 21st century. But all history has a prologue, that of Okuda takes us to the beautiful Santander and the 90s. In this fascinating conversation, we review a life linked to art. Meet Óscar, the person behind the great Cantabrian artist. We talked with him about the artist’s life and his interesting vision of art.
My first-time painting was on some train tracks in Santander (north of Spain). There was not much ease to find paint, it was also illegal, and it had to be done quickly. It was during the of year 96 or 97. I did it with two or three colors. At that time, I did not even have money to buy spray. They were rather letters.
Then we were finding quieter places and the composition was improving. I painted in abandoned factories or in places where you could be in the light of day working quietly.
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Did you have any problems with the police then?
Something not to emphasize, but there was an investigation in which I was involved. Although, I never paid fines or things like that.
I’ve always wondered: Where does your stage name come from, Okuda?
It comes in the most foolish way. I did not play videogames much, but my brother was playing all day. I do not remember very well, but in the credits of one of them I saw the surname Okuda, I saw a similarity with Óscar, I started using it and still continue to today.
His passion for art led him to study Fine Arts in Madrid’s Complutense University, a step that seems inevitable for any artist but always leaves in doubt. Where have you learned more on the street or at school?
My identity comes mostly from work in the street, although there is a lot of inspiration from the academic world. The technique I use, I polished on the street, not in a studio.
What I use the most is the spray. I have developed a lot of spray techniques along with other types of airbrushing techniques of the 70s. On a technical level I have learned totally on my own and at a composition and style level I introduce a lot of inspiration from surrealism and that type of currents.
Settled in Madrid since 2000, he has been one of the faces of the creative boom of the Spanish urban scene. Last month we went through the Kreisler Gallery to see his expo shared with artists from around the world with similar visions. The result was a song to tomorrow’s art.
How was your experience in Theriomorphism?
It was a pretty busy week. I have been a little apart from all the fairs in Madrid because I was not very identified with what was there. Despite this, last year I was in Art Madrid as the main artist and this year in Urbanity. It is becoming more interesting because it covers more things at the Streetart level. This Therio is the sixth that I did.
I commission the expo and I invite artists from all over the world, some do not know them, and others are friends. In any case, the Internet keeps us all close. The interesting thing is that we put our works in common and in addition to the works proposed by each artist, the beautiful thing is that there are works created between us and they are unique pieces.
We have seen you with Bordalo II in Lavapiés, Madrid, working together.
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Bordalo is one of the first level artists with whom I coincide a lot in festivals. Maybe because they are Portuguese, we Spaniards, we have become very friendly. At the level of character, we are very similar. We already made a combination in Tahiti last year. A joint wall. This is the second we do, although we made a sculpture for the exhibition. It was pretty cool.
Do you consider yourself a benchmark of Spaniard urban art?
Yes. Why not? I am one of those who work the most and move the most.
The artistic universe of Okuda is so vast that it makes us wonder where these colorful murals and sculptures come from in the mind of this creative artist.
What have your influences been for that style of yours that is so recognizable?
My references have been El Bosco, Magritte, Max Ernst and Dalí at art history. During the last two years I have played classic characters that were painted more in the Renaissance and classical art. I reinterpret it my way.
I love it and I have a good relationship with Tomokazu Mazsumaya. I have been in a Japanese side that I like a lot.
After having worked and exhibited in five continents, Okuda has participated in the most prestigious artistic festivals in the world and renovate churches as new temples of art, its complicated to designate an Okuda project as the most transcendent.
Perhaps the Asturian Skate Church has been his most impressive work, but what is the project he is most proud of?
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#Repost @instagram ・・・ This 100-year-old church in Llanera, Spain, remained abandoned for decades, until a group of skaters and artists transformed it into their own place of worship: the Kaos Temple, aka La Iglesia Skate (@la_iglesiaskate). Colorful geometric works by artist Okuda San Miguel (@okudart) now cover the dome and walls, and a giant slope replaced church pews. “I even like the sound of skating at a church,” says professional skater Danny Leon (@danny_leon) from Madrid. “In this place, I feel like I can vent while skating — I feel the peace.” For more stories from the Spanish-speaking community, follow @instagrames. Photo by @isinaiglesias ————————————————— Y mucha fuerzas a todos los de la @la_iglesiaskate y amigos por este momento tan duro… Jernest eres un grande! Te echaremos de menos ❤️ D.E.P.
The Skate Church. Looking back there may be other projects that are up to it. The other Denver church or the castle I painted in France are two works of which I am very satisfied. What I like the most is when the painting fits in with the architecture.
I am very proud of these great sculptures that we are doing for the public space. I could head my list of works the fault I made last year or the seven sculptures of Boston that we inaugurated last year.
If you had to choose what you prefer: paint on the street, design or sculpt?
I have been in the studio for two months preparing my last and the next exhibition at the Hong Kong Basel Art Week.
I need to paint on the street. Two months is a long time. I have never been so long without climbing on a crane. I enjoy painting a large building but doing 3D in public space also freaks me out. What fills me the most is being in several things at once.
What do you recommend a kid that starts in the spray?
Well, the first goal is your happiness and personal and artistic growth and not money and that kind of thing. That you put passion and security and that you do not care where you are pigeonholed. Look for your path, even if it does not respond to any clear slope. That is what I have done.
How does an urban artist from the underground go to a recognizable face?
Simply with a lot of discipline and passion. It’s a matter of painting and painting. The key is to have a lot of desire and discipline. Go growing. It has not been suddenly that I have become so public, it is a process.
Many artists face the illegality of graffiti in their first steps on the street, but is clandestinity still necessary?
Not at all. Even in my beginnings I have not been clandestine because the spaces that we occupied artistically did not interest anyone. I have not had that feeling at all.
You have painted in a lot of countries, is urban art in Spain at the level of other places?
At the level of interesting projects, the United States is in the lead. Asia begins to grow as well, and at the level of Latin America, and in particular Brazil, has a very powerful scene. There are many top Spanish artists such as Felipe Pantone or Dulk. There are a few. When I go to festivals there are always three or four Spaniards.
Have administrations evolved in their vision of urban art?
I think that thanks to the media, more vision has been given to the Streetart and it has become more socialized. Institutionally it is true that there is something more of a support but where I totally complain and where the situation must change to be a modern city is in Madrid.
It seems a lie that the government has changed and that nothing has changed. Meanwhile, Vhils is changing Lisbon a lot. And with the support that we do not have here.
Without these supports I imagine that it is difficult to live from art.
At the collector level there are already people who buy us here. Before we only had the American market and a little Asian and now, we buy collectors from Spain. At the level of fairs and market I like how the situation is changing but at the institutional level I complain categorically, with Madrid and Barcelona leading the way. I feel more valued in Cantabria.
How did the idea of the Skate Church in Asturias arise?
The idea was born in me. I found out it was private and managed by a society. I contacted them and they quickly gave me the ok. They had no budget and that is why crowdfunding came about.
How do you see the passage from street art to the museum?
Fairs such as Scope, Basel or EM Japan have been echoing this step for years. It is the last step of contemporary art in history and that is why I am happy that it is part of the museums. Not only do they speak of artists who work in the street, but they create a work worthy of study and that is why they are in museums and galleries.
Is it at risk of being art dedicated to the museum?
Not at all. If the artists continue working on the street it will not change. The work of the street will continue to be on the street and the work of study will be destined for the museum. Urban artists have a more general vision than artists about space. Now, the exhibitions are made in museums in different ways. The idea is to transform everything, including space.
What is success to you?
Success is being happy with what you do. Work is 80% of your life and if you are happy with it is being above the majority. I feel that art is my psychologist. In view of others is to be known but for me it is not that.
Now that you work along with the world without stopping, is it difficult to keep your circle of friends?
Yes, but it’s growing. I came to Madrid in the year 2000. I keep the friends with whom I started to paint but they have children and their life is difficult to make compatible with mine. At the end, I’m making new friends, meeting new artists with whom in the end you work, travel and live. 20 years give a lot.
I have an amazing circle of friends. Many are artists, others are not, but now they have much more to do with me. Although, I continue to maintain those first friendships, I am very attached to my family. Tomorrow, (March 5) I’m taking my parents and siblings to Tahiti to paint together.
What wall would you like to paint that you have not painted?
I remember that in a search of abandoned places in the world there appeared a church with the shape of a chicken and an abandoned city in China. All these weird things I would love to transform. I want to take my sculptures to an architectural level. That is, a large head or a body that is habitable where color coexists with forms. Little by little we carry it out.
What projects do you have in mind?
We travel to Hong Kong and the next expo is in San Francisco, where I collaborate with another artist. The next solo exhibition is in the Philippines. Make murals of large format in Lima, a sculpture in Tulum, Mexico … I do not stop painting murals until August without returning home.
We leave Okuda with the suitcase prepared for Tahiti on a trip that merges pleasure, work and family. A blessing for anyone and that for Okuda is a routine. The Cantabrian artist is one of the cultural icons of the Spanish scene that fills the world with color despite the limited support received by the administrations. For that reason, be attentive to the walls. In them lies the art of the future.
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