When Classic Inspiration Meets Surrealist Vision, with Okuda San Miguel
For Okuda San Miguel, his art is his church. And a church is just another canvas–literally. Okuda uses geometric shapes and vibrant colors to bring new life to forgotten buildings and overlooked walls all across the world, often splashing in references to classical art or figures from his own life. Listen to this episode of The Cultured Podcast to hear what famous painting Okuda regularly visits and how he continues to draw inspiration from this piece in his work.
Michelle Khouri 0:01
What happens when the themes from classical art merge like an explosion with vibrant and colorful surrealism? Well, today we’re finding out from Okuda San Miguel himself. That’s right. Okuda is on the show today.
Welcome to The Cultured Podcast. I’m your host, Michelle Khouri. And together we’ll journey into the unknown reaches of the art world.
(Singing along) It’s not simple to say. Most days I don’t recognize me. That these shows and this apron, that place and its patrons, have taken more than I gave them. It’s not easy to know. I’m not anything like I used to be. Although it’s true, I was never attention’s sweet center. I still remember that girl.
Oh, hello my babies! Okay, so why in the hell did I start this recording off my singing to a Broadway musical? Well that is because that is my inspiration for this week. This is crazy time, y’all. We have been releasing episodes of Cultured that we recorded months ago and that we already had edited and ready to roll. And so this is first opportunity that I am getting to sit down with you and just say, “Wow, like, holy crap.” I want to know how you’re doing. I’m really curious to see how everyone’s doing. I think like the general consensus is that we’re all taking this one day at a time, that every single day has its highs and it’s lows, sometimes minute by minute. If we’re lucky, it’s week by week. But we’re certainly all doing the best that we can right now. And I’m excited for this really special episode that we have here with Okuda San Miguel, who is one of the most famous street artists in the world. And right now, I’ve been following him on social and he’s been doing some really cool things with his quarantine time, like developing Okuda masks on Instagram and finishing up on paintings and planning new murals and paintings. And that’s kind of all we can do right now is make the most of our time in isolation. And whether that for you means embracing it as an opportunity to release some feelings, some anxieties that come up or observe the fears that come up. Or if that means that you’re busier than ever with work and so you’re producing a lot. Whatever it means for you, it’s a special time. And it’s also special in terms of how unique it is for most of us who’ve been alive. But that’s not what’s inspiring me this week. That’s mostly just what’s consuming me. Every day, I had to wait to record this intro for you guys because I wanted to record it from the right energy. And I had a couple really rough weeks there where I was just emoting a lot and I felt like my heart chakra was just cracking open. And it was super uncomfortable and super emotional. And I just kept facing a lot of very deep things that I haven’t faced because I’ve been so busy. I’m the kind of person who goes into overactive mode. So I was doing, doing, doing and making sure my business was okay and making sure everyone around me was okay and making sure I was, I guess, okay, but doing not the best job of that latter part. And so really sinking into those icky feelings and observing them, feeling them, letting them cycle out. And then this week that I’m recording this intro is the last week of April, first week of May of 2020. And I just feel so much higher vibration. I feel happier. I feel a general sense of joy. Like I said, it can be week by week, right? So I’m embracing this time, I’m sitting down and I’m recording this because I’m finally there where I feel really positive. And so that’s a interesting differentiator because it’s not that I feel positive because I’m repressing or avoiding. That’s really important. We shouldn’t repress or avoid at this point, but rather just face everything head on. And you’re isolated at home, so it’s the perfect opportunity to do so, if I may say so myself. But what’s inspiring me this week is actually something that came about as a tool for processing emotion during heavy periods, and I’ve just like kept it going. And basically when I feel like something might be rearing its head for me to feel, I’ve started listening to Broadway musicals before bed. And I think it’s so powerful with Broadway musicals in particular, because they are so emotive and because it’s always like every emotion is represented and magnified times 10. And so sadness is deep, dramatic sadness. And anger is resonant, fury, you know? It’s like rage but bellowing on high, and I just like allow myself to feel through the feelings of the Broadway musicals. It’s actually been really effective tool for someone like me who can be so guarded, to just like, sink into whatever I’m feeling. And it’s also funny because whatever is meant to come up is that emotion I’m specifically resonating with. So that’s what’s inspiring me is the power of music, and musicals in particular. And using those as a tool to express whatever it is you’re feeling, I’m super connecting especially to this one song from Waitress the Musical. And it’s a part of Sarah Bareilles album, it’s “She Used to Be Mine,” and it really reminds me of the grieving process a lot of people are going through right now. And I think we’re all grieving because we are letting something go forever. We are closing a chapter as a society. And I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to the way that we were. And in fact, I hope that we never do go back to the way that we were. I hope that we do, mourn and grieve whatever it is we’re leaving behind so that we can truly leave it in the past. Because I think that this is an extraordinary time that presents an extraordinary opportunity to move forward as a society and to learn from our many, many errors, and to heal, collectively together. And to love stronger. And to be more unconditional and kind and caring with one another. And to be more tolerant. And so what I hope is that we are, in fact all grieving the former versions of ourselves that are riddled with trauma, or that are controlled by our inner children or egos and to mourn the society that we once had that was defined in its worth by monetary and material things. And that is divisive rather than unified. So this song, “She Used to Be Mine,” just reminds me of the Michelle that used to exist and the fact that I’m a very different Michelle today than I was even two months ago. We are in a state of metamorphosis right now. And that is an extremely uncomfortable Very exciting thing. So that’s it. That’s what I wanted to tell you and I’m so glad I’m in the energy to do so. I love you guys. I really hope you’re well. If you need support, if you need to just vent to someone, you know you have me and you can message me, you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m the one who runs our social account on Instagram. So you can go to culturedpodcast on Instagram and DM me there and we can talk because this is a time when unity and leaning on one another is more important than ever before. From my heart to yours, I hope you’re doing well. I love you. Stay healthy. Stay safe. And without further ado, here is Okuda.
Hi Okuda. Welcome to The Cultured Podcast.
Michelle Khouri 9:00
So I’m very excited to talk to you today, because you’re kind of a big deal.
Thank you. (laughter)
Michelle Khouri 9:09
I know, it’s weird to hear that you’re a big deal when you’re the big deal. But it’s true. And it’s particularly true because you’re a huge inspiration to both artists and entrepreneurs or those who are seeking to create a creative business of their own. But before we get into that, why don’t we just go ahead and level-set. Tell us who you are and what your art form is?
Yeah, I am an artist from the North of Spain. I live in Madrid. I start to live in Madrid 20 years ago, and start to have a bigger studio like almost three years. Now we are, like, 20 people working in my studio and just start in the streets. My art came from the street and from my career.
Michelle Khouri 9:53
So how would you describe your art?
Surrealistic compositions that bring some newness and some characters from the Renaissance or from classic art. I mix digital language, with geometry, with all colors, with the patterns. You know? And I tried to mix patterns from the past from now, like big brands mixing with the ethnic or Indian fabrics, you know?
Michelle Khouri 10:21
So, just to describe a little bit more. Super colorful, and then a lot of geometric shapes, but I love that you talked about the Renaissance influence. So did you study classical fine art and is that where this inspiration comes from?
Yeah, I think my inspiration came from my academic system. When I discover Surrealism like Magritte, like Dali, like Delvaux, like Max Ernst. I get inspiration from this art and from the art from all cultures, you know? Like Indian art and these kind of things. It’s a mix between contemporary art and all art. You know?
Michelle Khouri 11:00
Is that desire to mix different cultures and art forms? Is that representative or symbolic in any way?
Yeah, because the symbolism and because the aesthetic. Because Picasso came back to the caverns, you know, to the prehistoric art in his art too, you know? It’s like modern art came back to the start, you know, to the beginning. And me? It can be the same you know.
Michelle Khouri 11:25
That’s beautiful. And are there any classical depictions that you tend to go back to over and over again?
Spirituality with the animals and with the Gods and with the religions. And yeah I like to talk about these things, you know, and the meaning of life and, and universal concepts like love, like freedom, like peace that still ask the spirituality, you know, with these things, with the nature and with our roots, you know?
Michelle Khouri 11:54
Absolutely. And so do you know what the meaning of life is?
I don’t know. I think nobody knows. I like to show opposite concepts that invite people to the reflections of universal concepts. Like I told you. But I don’t like to say like the answer of something, you know, of the typical meaning of life questions, you know? Of course nobody have it. That’s why I have the art, you know? It’s like my way to be close to spiritualiy is the art. It’s like, kind of, my religion.
Michelle Khouri 12:29
That’s beautiful. I mean, the art that you produce is so far beyond what I think most people have experienced. So let’s talk about the bigness of your art, because it is certainly enormous what you’ve been able to accomplish. So you have taken over actual towns with your art, you know, and created festivals with your art. How did you get to the point where you were creating whole festivals and events, like a whole new world through your art?
I think is the magic of internet. That’s why I start to grow up and grow up. I start to do things in the streets. But for nothing, you know? I never saw that come be at this point, like now, you know. It’s like, at the end, for me the most important to do art is like my psychology, you know, is to be happy. Because creating, you know? Because you have the faster feedback with the public, you know?
Michelle Khouri 13:28
At the same time that you are working, you know? The typical artists that work in the studio, don’t feel that thing, you know? And don’t live that thing that I think is super nice. How in the working of the creation, you can tell with totally different people, you know?
Michelle Khouri 13:44
Well, the thing is, a lot of artists have taken to Instagram to use it as a tool to you know, grow their audiences and things like that, but it takes a special kind of number one energy and stamina and also vision to then translate those opportunities into the things that you’ve translated them into. So, the festivals and the fairs. Talk to us a little bit about the first major event you did where you brought your art to life beyond a canvas, into sculptural work. And what that felt like for you.
Yeah, I think the first big creation on public space that I did, maybe was the church I did in the north of Spain. But the funny thing is that it’s first and the only wall that I did by myself, because I found this incredible place. I want to do it, you know, and just talk with the people that we’re doing this. Just tell me “Okay, let’s do it.” But we don’t have money, you know? Because the internet, we get the money to do it, you know?
Michelle Khouri 14:47
Because of crowdfunding, because Instagram, and because the power of communication that you have, when you are artists, like like me now, you know?
Michelle Khouri 14:55
How did it feel to step back after completing that church that you painted? How did it feel to see your work on that scale?
With the church was the first moment that I feel that I did something really big, you know? Because the contrast with the architecture with the classical architecture, with the skateboarding place, and with a contemporary painting by me, you know? It’s kind of opposite worlds at the same time, you know? Like, digital and modern language with a classic architecture, you know? And this contrast, for me, was like a point, you know, like a change in my career. And I start to try to find places like these, you know? That’s why I did two churches, one in Morocco, and one in USA in Denver. And another castle in France, you know. And I think these kind of pieces for me are the best because this contrast, you know? Because I did a lot of flat walls, you know, and at the end is kind of the same like work in the studio on canvas, you know? Nut when you cover old architecture it’s like next level, you know?
Michelle Khouri 16:04
Oh yeah, it’s definitely next level. So what’s the biggest undertaking you’ve ever taken on? What’s the biggest project you’ve ever taken on?
The last event, we did this Titanes, this big event that I am the creator and I bring some international artists like Nitrus, like Bicicleta, like super big names. And bring to Spain to do art on silos, you know?
Michelle Khouri 16:32
It’s like super big scale buildings that don’t have life and are used for nothing and now it starts a new life for them. You know? At the end is like I come back to my beginning because I start to paint on factories. Places that for the people is nothing but for me are like the best. Me and my team are doing a lot of different things. We have a partner, that the name is Elrow. They are like techno electronic music parties in the world. They do their own 250 parties in the world. They build a lot of sculptures and a lot of art works, to invite the people. And that’s why I fall in love with this family and with this agency and I start to work with them. And we create Chaos Garden. And we will be in around 10 different countries. Yeah.
Michelle Khouri 17:22
I went to Chaos Garden and it was so much fun. And it really was like walking into an Okuda Garden of Eden. And there’s just, like, animals everywhere. And then you had like everyone parading out in their outfits. And that’s what I’m curious about. Is that you? I mean, your first love really is, it sounds like, the act of painting. That’s your first love.
Yeah, I think so.
Michelle Khouri 17:49
But these events, that’s why I find it so fascinating. They take a lot of work to create. So there has to be a love and a passion for that somewhere, right?
Yes, yes. And for me the best is to go to the different or a new country each year, you know?
Michelle Khouri 18:06
To discovered new culture, a new new country and put part of my heart and part of it there, you know, yeah, at the end, the idea is to go to every country in the world.
Michelle Khouri 18:15
Yeah. And I don’t doubt that you’re gonna do that. Like, that’s the thing is, you’re someone who seems to envision something and make it happen. And so how many people are on your team right now?
Yeah, around 20 people.
Michelle Khouri 18:30
20 people?! Wow.
Yeah, that’s why I’m super, super focused on decorating.
Michelle Khouri 18:35
Well, that’s good. You have 20 people so that you can be focused on that. Because without that, then what are you doing right? I think that’s actually a really good lesson for entrepreneurs and artists in general is to not get caught up and not to lose your focus and not to get too distracted in the act of building something and evolving. So how do you keep yourself focused? How do you really maintain that center in your work?
Yeah, I’m super focused in my work because I have a big team that do the boring work. Emails and the press and everything that I don’t want to do.
Michelle Khouri 19:11
Yeah, I’m super, super focused on on creating 24 hours, seven days per week.
Michelle Khouri 19:17
Yeah. Sounds like an artist. So your mom right now is actually helping you. I think your mom and your sister.
Yes. Both of them.
Michelle Khouri 19:25
Oh my god. So talk to us about the embroidery project because I’ve been following that for a minute on Instagram and I’m so curious about how it came to be. Give us some background that your mom is helping with the embroidery and how it happened.
Both of those ones, I never did it before. I came back to my mom’s house and just discover like a rectangle that she did with wool. And I asked her about you know, to do that, okay, let’s try in a canvas. And I started to just get something. And we create like a wool palette. Like Around 80 colors, different colors. And I just put the numbers in each triangle. And I start to travel, I like keep super connecting with my mom because doing that, you know. Now I feel I am closer to my mom, but really I am more far away from my mom, you know, because I travel but with the internet and everything we are super super close now, you know?
Michelle Khouri 20:24
Oh my god and now you’re working together. That’s such a nice connection point.
Yeah, totally, totally.
Michelle Khouri 20:30
And she gets to do something really creative, which is fulfilling, I imagine.
Yeah. The most important is my mom, at the end, is part of my soul, some part of my art and more parts of me, you know? She feel like she found her passion with 65 years old, you know?
Michelle Khouri 20:46
Yes. Oh, my God. That’s amazing, Okuda. Wow. Speaking of color palettes, do you use the same? Because all of your pieces have a similar look and you can spot an Okuda from 50 feet away. So do you have the same palette that you go back to?
I never have the same palette, depends where I am. And the brands that the organization gives me, or the technique that we use. With the embroidery, we have around 80 different colors that we found in wool. But with spray paint, I have like 100 and a half, you know? And always it’s different because all walls are different. But the most important is that I need to use all colors from different colors in the chromatic circle, but always with a perfect balance with black and white. That is the most important.
Michelle Khouri 21:40
Well, you have a very specific style. How did you come to that point in your style and find your voice as an artist?
Yeah, I feel when I start to find my own language around maybe 10 years ago, when I started with the parade, IAM, Ink and Movement. We have started to do like a world tour with the artist Nano 48. Yeah, we start to travel around the world and did some galleries and was like the first artworks that I did in the studio like cities, you know? Because before was more industry but not really serious in the studio, you know? And it was the beginning of the agency that my managers have, you know? At the same time.
Michelle Khouri 22:28
Wow. So, it all came to be at the same time.
Michelle Khouri 22:32
Yes, we start to grow up at the same time.
Michelle Khouri 22:34
We start to have my own which at this time, you know?
Michelle Khouri 22:39
So, what I find so astounding is that your art form has taken on so many different kinds of canvases and forms. What are all of the different forms your art has taken? So for instance, painting, polymer sculptures, embroidery.
Now I am super focused on paintings, sculptures and embroideries. And sometimes I do, like artwork with photography. I try to bring out my character from the paintings to the reality. And now I want to introduce me in animation and maybe in cinema.
Michelle Khouri 23:20
Oh my god.
I would like to, to grow up my sculptures in an architectural way, you know? I would love to do like big animal head or big animal or big geometric composition by me, like a bigger scale and maybe the people can live inside or, you know, and be like a gallery or something like that, you know?
Michelle Khouri 23:43
That’s, that’s a way that I want to do it.
Michelle Khouri 23:47
I love that. I love the idea of animation with your work. That’s amazing. So your sculptures, what are they made out of?
Normally the sculptures are fiberglass, but if it’s for the streets, it’s a stronger fiberglass with metallic system inside, you know? It depends of where they are, you know?
Michelle Khouri 24:06
Mmhmm. Mmhmm. What’s the process for fiberglass?
Oh, the sculptures? The process is the same. I do the sketch with my team here with two 3D builders that they have and they do the perfect 3D on the computer. We send this file to another studio. They do the mold after they do the piece that they bring back the piece to us. And we paint the piece. And after, we send to the world, you know?
Michelle Khouri 24:38
Oh my god, having that team is so important.
If you want to do big things, of course, you can’t do them alone.
Michelle Khouri 24:45
I don’t think a lot of people understand that. Like, I think a lot of artists are criticized for having teams of people who help them create and it’s like, well, what do you expect? You can’t do that alone. Do you ever receive that kind of criticism?
I don’t care about the critics or, you know, all the comments, because normally I don’t see the comments on internet. I don’t spend time on that things, you know? It’s normally good feedback. Because if not, never do that like this, you know?
Michelle Khouri 25:15
That’s the only way. And all the people that come to my team was like a natural step, you know, like, never, never tried to find these people. It’s like, part of the family. But yeah, like they come to us because we need something magnetic or I don’t know.
Michelle Khouri 25:34
Without a doubt, we’re all magnetic. I mean, literally, just big magnets. So you mentioned your characters, and you certainly have a set of characters that seem to appear often. Can you tell us about who those characters are and what they represent for you.
I tried to create animals and humans and creatives that mix animals and humans, you know? It’s like metamorphosis between animals and humans. The humans came from the Renaissance and from classic art, and I tried to translate to my language, you know? Normally they have like, animal heads, but sometimes digitally are people that I love, like FAKA music group from South Africa, like some Bjork, like Public Enemy, like, different, or like friends of mine, you know?
Michelle Khouri 26:26
Mmhmm. And I do also notice that you have the recurring theme of the Garden of Eden in your work. Is there something about the Garden of Eden and that story that inspires you?
I think this artwork (link: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/the-garden-of-earthly-delights-triptych/02388242-6d6a-4e9e-a992-e1311eab3609) is my favorite in the art history and is in a museum super close to my house. And it’s like sometimes I go just to see this artwork. I’ll come back.
Michelle Khouri 26:52
Oh my God, wow.
For me it’s super, super amazing because Chaos Garden with elrow is an interpretation of that artwork too, ya know? I would love to do like 11 interpretations of that artwork. And to bring all of those to Museo del Prado probably, you know, because it’s the same museum that has the same artwork.
Michelle Khouri 27:12
What’s the museum’s name?
The name is Museo del Prado.
Michelle Khouri 27:15
Museo del Prado. Okay. And that’s in Madrid?
Si, that’s in Madrid.
Michelle Khouri 27:19
Hmm, what is it about that painting that keeps drawing you in?
Yeah. Why? Because I think is the first surrealistic piece. But 500 years before this was released, you know?
Michelle Khouri 27:33
That’s the incredible thing, you know?
Michelle Khouri 27:36
Oh, wow. That, I mean, that’s really inspiring. Okay, so.
Michelle Khouri 27:40
Where can the Cultured Crew find you online? Where should they go?
I invite people to follow my Instagram because I use my Instagram like my diary. I put all my news, all my projects, everything on. And I use stories to talk about my life, you know, everyday.
Michelle Khouri 27:58
And it’s okudart, is it?
Yeah, it’s Okuda San Miguel or O-K-U-D-A-R-T.
Michelle Khouri 28:05
Okudart, mmhmm. And any other place we should find you or go?
Yeah, I have my new website that the name is okudasanmiguel.com. We have like a world map. And we have the points where I have interventions in the world, you know? Maybe, the people that like to do the selfies can follow me in the world, and my works in the world, you know, with my website.
Michelle Khouri 28:34
Umm yes, that’s awesome. I’m gonna be one of those people doing selfies so…
Michelle Khouri 28:39
I’ll tag you. That’s super fun. Okay, well, thank you so much for being with us today on the Cultured Podcast, Okuda.
Thank you. Peace and love to everyone.
Michelle Khouri 28:54
My, my, my. No wonder Okuda’s paintings are so colorful. He is an incredibly vibrant spirit. And by the way, babies, I would love to hear if you have any suggestions I want to hear about it. Email me at email@example.com, or you can DM me on Cultured Podcast Instagram account. I obviously want to know what you love and what you don’t necessarily resonate with.
In the meantime, you know what to do, my babies. Keep it classy. Keep it Curious. Keep it Cultured.