Javier Calleja

Javier Calleja is known for his wide-eyed, signature style portraits. His darkly humorous paintings have an alluring simplicity and a candid emotional force.

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 such as “FUCK YOU ALL” and “That’s the way” undercut the cutesy innocence of the figures. The perfectly merged gradients of their facial expressions are contrasted by flat, single-colour backgrounds and the loose line-work that illustrates their bodies. 

Select Achievements
  • Group booth at Art Basel with NANZUKA gallery, Hong Kong, 2019
  • Solo show, Fake is the future, at Galerie Zink, Hamburg, 2018
  • Solo show, No Art Here, at the Castor Gallery, New York, 2015
  • Recipient of Idea Art Marset Price and DKV Price Best Spanish Artist at SWAB Art Fair, Barcelona, 2014
  • Work in collections inc. Banco Sabadell Collection, Diputación de Málaga, DKV Collection, Marset Collection, CAB de Burgos, CAC Málaga, Unicaja Collection, Granada University
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This distinct aesthetic has earned Calleja acclaim across Europe and Asia, and made his works incredibly sought after by collectors who have eagerly bought-up his solo exhibitions. 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, as well as a lonely Playmobil toy. This constant strand of irony underpins Calleja’s oeuvre, and brings a subtle sense of magic to his work.

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

Modes of display are integral to Calleja’s practice. In Clouds Through The Window, his solo exhibition in 2019 at Galerie Zink in Regensburg, a two-storey wall was painted a pale, blueish grey, brightly lit by beaming skylights. On the wall, nine of Calleja’s portraits hung in a balanced but asymmetric cluster, 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 a English Country House from the 1800s, both lavish ornamental exhibits of wealth. However, the purposeful simplicity of Calleja’s paintings juxtapose their grand presentation. Thus, the works re-envision traditional portraiture in a sardonic gesture that is proudly humorous and endearing.

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Calleja’s work is a form of self-portraiture, driven by emotion rather than reason. He explains that when he was starting out in the 1990s, he felt as though contemporary art was overly intellectual. Calleja did not want to have to theorise his work. Instead, he wanted to create art that touched people without the need for an explanation. Thus, Calleja developed his trademark characters which he considers small versions of himself: his “children.” Innocence, mischief, curiosity, and fear all burst from their dewy eyes, revealing that familiar moment where a child’s emotions collide and become impossible to contain.

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While Calleja channels inspiration from personal experiences and his own childhood, his paintings cleverly express the universal contradictions of human experience. This emotional authenticity, paired with his glib, ironic humour, and an acute formal understanding of painting, drawing, and sculpture, douses Calleja’s oeuvre with an understated yet earnest power.

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