Javier Calleja

Wide-eyed portraits packed with wry humour and emotional candour.

artist holding a paintbrush up to a row of canvases in his studio
Painting of large-eyed cartoon child placed centrally on a white surface surrounded by splashes of paint and scribbles
Javier Calleja in his studio standing before a large blank canvas with his back turned to the camera
7 images

Javier Calleja was born in 1971 in Malaga, Spain, where he continues to live and work.

Accolades

Awarded the DKV Best Spanish Artist Prize and the Idea Marset Prize, with works featured in collections including the Banco Sabadell Collection, Diputación de Málaga, DKV Collection, Market Collection, CAC Málaga, Unicaja Collection and that of Granada University.

Did you know?

Calleja resists the 'over-theorisation' of art, preferring to create works that can be easily accessed and understood by their viewer. This approach, paired with his distinctive aesthetic, has seen him amass a dedicated following of fans and collectors around the world - with every show a sure-fire sell out and waiting lists reaching far into the distance.

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Exhibitions

Practice overview

Calleja’s work is equally sarcastic as it is sensitive. His portraits depict stylised figures with exaggerated heads and big, melting eyes, reminiscent of Manga or Anime characters. Scrawled across their t-shirts, phrases like “FUCK YOU ALL” undercut their apparent cutesy innocence. Facial features with perfectly merged gradients are contrasted by flat, single-colour backgrounds and loose line-work that illustrates their bodies. The artist also translates his painted figures into fibreglass sculptures that, with their uncanny animated style and manufactured finish, evoke the works of contemporary artists such as KAWS and Yoshitomo Nara - or indeed a lonely Playmobil toy. This constant strand of irony underpins Calleja’s oeuvre, bringing a sharp edge to the alluring simplicity of his aesthetic.

Clouds Through The Window, a solo exhibition in 2019 at Galerie Zink in Regensburg, showed a two-storey wall covered in nine portraits, each with an oversized, wooden frame in a simplified Baroque style. The composition of multiple paintings in slightly different shapes and sizes, recalls art historical emblems of power: Parisian salon-style display or the interior of an English Country House from the 1800s. However, the purposeful simplicity of Calleja's paintings juxtaposes their grand presentation, re-envisioning traditional portraiture in a sardonic but endearing gesture. Emotion rather than reason is the driving force for Calleja. When starting out in the 1990s, he felt as though contemporary art was overly intellectual. By contrast, Calleja wanted to create art that touched people without the need for an explanation. Thus, he developed his trademark characters which he considers small versions of himself, his “children.” This emotional authenticity, paired with his glib, ironic humour, douses Calleja’s oeuvre with an understated yet earnest power.

“Every character is like my son. At the end of my life, I might have thousands of children.”Javier Calleja

Journals about this artist