Javier Calleja, a late contender in the art world is currently soaring through exhibitions worldwide as he intends to awaken your inner child. He delves in drawing, painting, and sculpture techniques, all which encompass his unique artistic approach. His wide-eyed characters are usually accompanied by darkly humored phrases that ask the viewer to look beyond what is visible, and to evaluate what is not. The sarcastic and equally sensitive works evidence contradictions of innocence and the lack thereof, resulting in a fully immersive experience of what it is to live as a human in this world. He derives inspiration from childhood and cartoon styles that place the viewer right in between raw childhood emotion, and a saturated adult existence. Read on to learn more about Javier Calleja and his wonderful addition to the contemporary art world.
Think Longer, 2018, Courtesy of the Artist and Calleja Studios
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and when did art first enter your life?
I am from Malaga, Spain and I don’t really know exactly when art entered my life. I started to draw a lot while I was a child, but I do know I decided to be an artist when I was 25, when I went to study art.
Installation View at Bill Brady Gallery, (L-R) I Don’t Care, Before You Go, Courtesy of the Artist and Calleja Studios
Has your work always taken on the style it currently embodies?
No, the style has not always been the same, but you can see the connections between my current work and what I did before. Even with the drawings I did as a kid – there are some abstract parts, there are characters with big eyes, etc.
What is your process like? How do you usually start a work?
My process always depends on the project that I’m working on but it always starts with the same thing – a pencil and paper. Whatever I need to work on, I start with drawing using a black pencil on a white paper.
To Be Honest, 2020, Courtesy of the Artist and Calleja Studios
Walk us through a day in the studio
Well, I like to wake up early and head to the studio. Once I’m there I just know I’m gonna stay there for no less than 12hrs. And my time there is not just working on drawings or paintings. It also involves reading and just thinking. Sometimes I just sit and wait for the idea. I spend a lot of time in the studio and it’s not the most impressive or exciting way to spend the time, but just being there, working or not, it all matters for me.
No Need To Explain, 2020, Courtesy of the Artist and Calleja Studio
Do you have any art historical figures who you draw inspiration from?
Yes, I have many, many figures so I can not tell one or a few. If I start naming them this entire conversation will turn into a long list.
Installation View at Aishonanzuka, HK,
(L-R) Shit Happens, I Did, I Do, I Will Do, 2020, Courtesy of the Artist and Calleja Studio
Can you tell us about your cartoon-esque style? How did you come up with that style and what are you looking to communicate?
I think that my style is more connected with my real beginnings, my childhood, and the drawings I was making then. This is why it always felt that this style actually found me and I didn’t find it, and I’m still waiting for it to change. I’m looking to communicate emotions. The feeling of love, magic, or pain, I want to show that second when you feel those emotions. At least this is what I think, but I’m not sure. I like people to experience the sensation of experiencing the moment of magic. Being lost, confused, heart beating stronger, I love that effect.
You Have No Choice, 2018, Courtesy of the Artist and Calleja Studio
What is your favorite Art Historical movement? Does your work reference any Art Historical movements?
Again, I don’t have a favorite movement, or artist, or work, like I don’t have a favorite color. I have many! I quite like minimalistic art and I wish to be able to make work like Richard Serra or Robert Ryman. I actually tried it but it didn’t work.
One, 2020, Acrylic on Paper, Courtesy of the Artist and Calleja Studio
What’s next for you?
The next two years are completely full, so I know what to do tomorrow. I have my next show in Tokyo, I’m working on new sculptures, I’m working on more collaborations, but I don’t know how I’m going to be thinking about it or what work I’ll make for it. This is going to be a surprise for me too.
Is there any work that came from the worldwide pandemic? If not, what did you do?
I did stop working at the studio for a while because of the lockdown restrictions we had. But even at home, I was working on collaboration projects, on drawings, we’ve released a figure edition to help the local hospital, we worked on face mask design to help support the local movie festival, so I did find a way to keep busy. The paintings in my latest shows are a bit connected to the atmosphere of the pandemic, but through irony and metaphors and not literally.
So Let Me Go, 2019, Courtesy of the Artist and Calleja Studios
At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?
I would like to ask who recommended me? (laughs) I have so many artists that I love and could recommend but one I like and appreciate a lot is Haroshi. Also, I think it’s good to help the younger artist get the spotlight so maybe you can get in touch with Julio Anaya Cabanding or Maja Djordjevic.