From abandoned railways to a 16-story building, Okuda San Miguel has been landscaping the world with art since 1997, taking low places to great heights. And as street art continues to dominate urban decor, this Spanish bred talent is no stranger to the daring creative world.
His modern-meets-classic murals are the quintessential masterpieces that speak to his character and to the world at large with an emphasis on equality, cultural symbolism, and art in the most unexpected places.
His most recent feat : Kaos Temple in Llanera, Spain – A project that transformed the abandoned Santa Barbara church into a skateboarders’ sanctuary. Together with skate enthusiasts Church Brigade and RedBull, Okuda undertook his “personal Sistine Chapel.” He is no amateur when it comes scaffolding and questionable territory to house his vibrant colours and signature geometric style. Experiential and energetic, it is this artist’s technique and his passion for street influenced material confronting themes of freedom and oppression that frame his talent and irreplicable work.
This interview goes inside the mind of Okuda San Miguel on the go as he gets real about how it all goes down in the street art movement he’s growing. Read on.
Your work is symbolic, and as you’ve mentioned, it often invokes subjects of modernity, roots, existentialism and sub-surrealism. How much of a role do the colours play in your meaning? Do you have a “colour code” in your work?
OS: Yes. I always try to combine the grey scale with the full colour palette in an harmonic way. The multi-colours symbolise the multicultural. I paint faces with geometric patterns to show that everyone is the same, putting all types of skin colours on the same level. And colour is a symbol of nature and life. The grey scale is the cement, the dust, the dead, and the material of classic sculptures.
With so many hours and different angles you undergo to complete your projects (for example the church in Llanera), what are some things that you think about when you are painting? Do you remain focused on the technical delivery of your designs?
OS: I think about my iconography, my symbols, my patterns, and my own world when I am painting. I try to select which kind of my work is perfect for the new space. Now, I like to work off of photos of sculptures from classical art history like Mesopotamian or renacentist (Renaissance Art), that I see in museums or on the streets in my travels. And I try to insert some of this in my paintings; Figures from the past that come together with my modern pop art scenes.
How do you prepare for a project, creatively and mechanically (from concept development to arranging tools) – do you sketch out your work before you begin or free style paint?
OS: I use to start the projects without final sketches. For example, I arrived at my church without sketches and just went inside and started to feel what I needed to do in each place. The amazing architecture was like a script for me. The technique normally is spray-painting over a latex primer or acrylic paint background for big spaces. I also use markers, stencils and masking tape in my smaller studio works.
Do you recall any experiences where you had to start over or paint over your work / can you talk about what happens when you slip up or make a mistake with paint, how do you correct it?
OS: Spray paint lets you correct everything in a second. It is very fast and sometimes from mistakes come interesting new directions.
Do you recall the very first painting you completed as street art?
OS: I don’t know exactly. I started to paint graffiti in 1997 …but street art maybe around 2004.
What would be a dream project for you? What are some of the challenges in the life of a street artist? And what is the greatest reward?
OS: I am seeing my dreams realized every year. I don’t know now about challenges but I never stop dreaming. The best reward is your own happiness, I need to create to be happy, and feel alive and believe me that art is the meaning of my life.
Your work has been exhibited all over the world. Any particular locations that were most significant to, or places that you were most excited about sharing your work?
OS: I was excited to do my biggest murals or installations in public spaces in places like India, Hong Kong, Kiev, Moscow, or my fountain in Tennessee. But I need to go to Australia, hopefully soon. But the most inspirational countries to work are always in Africa, South America or Asia. I am also happy that I am starting to do gallery shows in USA and Asia.
You’ve worked at some great heights, which is one of the most exhilarating aspects of your work. What is one of your most memorable experiences working several stories high?
OS: Maybe painting in the favelas in Brazil, Peru, Mali, Cabo Verde or India because you can feel the smiles of the children, and the incredible vibes from the poor people. Very special moments that I can’t explain.
And I remember the biggest building that I completed in Kiev was last year where the people and the media made me feel like part of the change of the country, and the freedom, because they had just come from a revolution, and are still at war in some places… The infinite grey cement buildings and grey sky in Ukraine needs colour, happiness and freedom.
You have piece in Kiev, which you mentioned that experience left you feeling apart of their freedom. How did the locals respond to your work in their city when you first began? Are there other locations you would like to explore where you believe your work could have a social impact, or promote freedom of expression?
When you are not working on art projects, how do you spend your time?
OS: Going to museums, gallery shows from artists I like, or artist friends; cooking with friends; visiting my family in Cuchia, where Caballos Beach is located, my personal paradise; eating seafood (I love it); going to the theatre to see new shows from my actor friend Pepon Nieto; partying with my people Zombie Kids, NOV9, ChaCha Club; my Santander chilis; with my mates Chirie Vegas, Foreign Beggars, the Ink and Movement team behind my career; going to the park… My favourite park in the world is VIGELAND Park in Oslo, I was there a couple of days ago. And music all the time!
Do you have any creative rituals before beginning a project? Any daily routines that keep your mind open and fresh?
OS: Just put some music and try to find inside me in front of the wall, or building, or space…and always with a Coca-Cola and a lots of fruit…
Being born and raised in Spain, what are some of your favourite things about your country, and about the new generation? Do you believe art can be a source of motivation and influence for young people?
I travel a lot and keep my home in Spain because I love the weather, the light and the colours in the streets, the funny and happy people, street life, nightlife, party, beaches, food of course, and the very talented artists that are my friends, like SAN, Pantone, Spok, Remed, Nano4814, Aryz, Nuria Mora…About the new generation, I don’t think they are going in a good way, because their values and motivations are not good because of the shit that TV has showed to them…
OS: Electronic, chill wave, electro pop, indie, flamenco, electronic cumbia, bossanova,…
OS: The fall, Avatar, The imaginarium of doctor Parnassus, Castillo Ambulante, Rainbow Thief or Holly Mountain by Jodorowsky..
OS: Seafood, avocado, fresh red tuna fish, green esparraguss, juices with ginger and spinach
Most beautiful city in the world?
OS: New York or Tokyo
Favorite 20th century artist?
OS: Magritte or Dali.
OS: I would like to be in my new family house at the beach with mum and family like every year in July and August…and some weeks to Ibiza like every year too. And music festivals in Spain too.
But maybe I don’t have too many holidays because a lot of interesting projects are coming…I am still deciding about it…in NYC, Atlanta, Arkansas, China, and maybe South Korea, Hong Kong…And because I am producing my next solo show on the 21st of September in Underdogs Lisbon.
Follow Os latest news and projects on his instagram @okudart.