Why Spanish artist Javier Calleja is a hit in Asia and beyond

Javier Calleja in his studio. Photo by José Luis Gutiérrez. Image courtesy of the artist.
Javier Calleja, Who?, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 162 x 130 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and AISHONANZUKA.
Javier Calleja, Respect, 2019, mix media on paper, 70 x 50 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and AISHONANZUKA.
Javier Calleja, Thinking boy, 2019, wood, metal and glass, 205 x 76.4 x 90 cm, edition of 5. Image courtesy of the artist and AISHONANZUKA.
Javier Calleja, Still in time, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 116 x 130 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and AISHONANZUKA.
TOP
857
30
0
 
13
Oct
13
Oct
CoBo Social Market News Reports

Spanish artist Javier Calleja’s increasing popularity in Asia and other parts of the world can be attributed to the melding of satire and whimsy in his artworks. Moreover, this contemporary artist is not slowing down anytime soon.

 

TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and AISHONANZUKA

Spanish artist Javier Calleja has garnered increasing international buzz over the past year for sculptures, paintings and drawings featuring his signature characters with disproportionately large heads, exaggerated eyes, and dark and humorous text placed on the figures’ clothing or other relevant places. With the slowing down of the art world due to the ongoing global pandemic, most creatives would prefer to take the time to retreat and regroup. Calleja, on the other hand, is not letting the shifting realities of our time slow him down.

 

Javier Calleja in his studio. Photo by José Luis Gutiérrez. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Speaking to CoBo Social via email, he said, “At the moment I believe the only thing we can do is be ready to adapt. The current situation doesn’t allow me, or anyone to make big plans for months ahead, let alone the far future, so I’m just ready to adapt to whatever happens without expectations.”

In August, the artist, who was born in 1971 in Málaga where he is currently based, sought to support his city through working with one of its major cultural events, Festival de Málaga, to produce a range of limited series protective face masks featuring his recognisable figures, focusing on their noses and mouths, along with his trademark text. Calleja said in a Hypebeast interview, “This way culture is supporting culture.” He stepped up to help the festival mainly because regular sponsors, which were big businesses, withdrew their support for the event. Earlier this year, Calleja also created a limited edition sculpture, titled Do Not Touch, and used the sales proceeds to buy 200,000 face masks for local hospitals.

At Christie’s Modern and Contemporary Art Evening sale in Hong Kong this July, the artist set an auction record when his work WHAT? (2018) was sold at HK$3 million, six times higher than its high estimate. Additionally, on view since July 2020 onwards, Gin Huang Gallery’s Taichung Space presented his artwork alongside British artist George Morton-Clark and Japanese artists Tomokazu Matsuyama, Taku Obata, Izumi Kato, and Sou Hirose as part of the MR+ private collection.

 

Javier Calleja, Who?, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 162 x 130 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and AISHONANZUKA.
Javier Calleja, Respect, 2019, mix media on paper, 70 x 50 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and AISHONANZUKA.

 

However, these shows are not his first foray in Asia. Calleja has made quite a name for himself in this part of the world, having debuted his first solo show in Asia “Hi” at AISHONANZUKA in May 2017.

Regarding the popularity of his art in Asia, Calleja said, “I was surprised with that at first but more from a point that you don’t often see a Spanish, or European artist succeeding in Asia. Especially with this type of work as there are so many local artists there, working in a similar style, it’s so difficult to make a mark for someone coming from outside.”

“My work resonates with audiences in Asia, but also in the rest of the world, as I have collectors in Europe, in North America, in Africa, etc. Asia is just so big and there are so many people living there that a success there makes a huge difference,” he added.

Calleja’s recent international buzz is mainly due to his two solo exhibitions last year. Running from May to July 2019, his solo show at Galerie Zink’s new space outside Nuremberg, Germany, “Clouds Through the Window” was described as his “strongest showcase to date.” A departure from his typical sculptures, the Spanish artist focused on a salon style presentation of his paintings, including a mind bending version of the cabinets of curiosities on the largest gallery wall, as well as blowing up the size of artworks found in the classical salon showcase with oversized frames.

The second exhibition which made quite a splash at the end of last year was “I did, I do, I will do” at AISHONANZUKA in Hong Kong, featuring two larger-than-life sculptures of his trademark characters, eight canvases and 15 drawings. The most eye-catching and tongue-in-cheek piece in the show was Little Maurizio (2019), a tribute to Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan, who is known for his satirical flair. Hanging on the wall in the expansive gallery space, the wooden boy with his huge eyes and playful innocence, brings to mind the iconic character of Pinocchio, effectively portraying the famous mischief-making Italian artist. Smaller figurines of Little Maurizio were also released in an edition of 75 as collectible items.

 

Javier Calleja, Thinking boy, 2019, wood, metal and glass, 205 x 76.4 x 90 cm, edition of 5. Image courtesy of the artist and AISHONANZUKA.
Javier Calleja, Still in time, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 116 x 130 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and AISHONANZUKA.

 

The allusion to fictional and cartoon characters in his art is not accidental as Calleja shared that the earliest influences of his art were comics, cartoons and toys from when he was a child.

“Growing up in the 70s and 80s, my biggest influences were cartoons and comics. In particular Mazinger Z cartoons and Francisco Ibáñez Talavera’s comics. Inspired by those two, I started drawing as a child, so my work developed from there and still carries some of those characteristics,” he said.

The second and larger sculpture in the abovementioned Hong Kong show, Thinking Boy (2019) is described as fleshing out the “magical moment” of “that instant of introspection which proceeds to the creative process itself.” A seemingly impossible energy to capture but Calleja does so rather quixotically with his trademark whimsical figure featuring a stack of books balancing on his head and a cat with immense yellow eyes perched right on top.

Most of Calleja’s paintings and drawings of his fantastical and bright eyed creatures tend to draw inevitable comparisons with the art of blue chip Japanese artist Yoshimoto Nara, depicting children and animals bordering on sweet and sinister all at once with theirs eyes as a predominant feature. In fact, Calleja’s art is vastly different, especially in terms of his use of colour, deterioration of materials, items from our daily lives, as well as the darkly humorous words which he produces as an essential element of the final artwork.

Calleja’s contemporary visual art essentially melds satire with whimsy and in doing so, instantly wins the jaded 21st century viewer’s heart and mind. This is the key to his breakthrough in Asia and other parts of the world over these few years. It is also the reason he stands out amongst the contemporary artists of his time.

 

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply