Javier Calleja

Spanish artist Javier Calleja paints glassy-eyed portraits with irreverent humour and candid emotion.

Sarcastic and sensitive in equal measure, Calleja’s portraits depict cartoonish figures with exaggerated heads and big, melting eyes. Phrases like “FUCK YOU ALL” scrawled across his subjects’ t-shirts undercut their cutesy innocence. The seamless gradients of their facial features are contrasted by the loose line-work of their bodies and flat, monochromatic backgrounds.

Highlights
  • NO ART HERE, solo show at Nanzuka Underground, Tokyo, 2020
  • Sooner or Later, solo show at Bill Brady Gallery, Miami, 2020
  • Clouds Through The Window, solo show at Galerie Zink, Regensburg, 2019
  • Group booth at Art Basel with NANZUKA gallery, Hong Kong, 2019
  • Recipient of Idea Art Marset Price and DKV Price Best Spanish Artist at SWAB Art Fair, Barcelona, 2014
  • Work in collections including 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 widespread acclaim, particularly in Asia where collectors have eagerly bought up his solo exhibitions. The artist also translates his painted figures into uncanny fibreglass sculptures that evoke the work of contemporary artists such as KAWS and Yoshitomo Nara — or perhaps a lonely Playmobil toy. This constant strand of irony underpins Calleja’s oeuvre, bringing a sharp edge to the alluring simplicity of his aesthetic.

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Modes of display are integral to Calleja’s practice. In Clouds Through The Window — his 2019 solo exhibition at Galerie Zink in Regensburg — a two-storey wall was painted a pale, blueish grey and lit brightly by skylights. On the wall, nine of Calleja’s portraits were hung in a balanced but asymmetric cluster, each in an oversized wooden frame with simplified Baroque moulding. The composition of multiple paintings in eclectic shapes and sizes recalls art historical emblems of power: a Parisian salon-style display or the interior of an English Country House from the 1800s. However, the simplicity of Calleja’s paintings wilfully contrasts their grand presentation. Thus, the installation re-envisions traditional portraiture with a sardonic gesture that is both funny and endearing.

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Calleja’s work is a subtle form of self-portraiture driven by emotion rather than reason. He explains that when starting out in the 1990s he felt as though contemporary art was overly intellectual. Calleja rejected the expectation to theorise his work. Instead, he wanted to create art that touched people without the need for an explanation. From this sentiment came Calleja’s trademark characters who he considers small versions of himself — his “children.” Innocence, mischief, curiosity and fear all burst from their dewy eyes, revealing that familiar moment when a child’s emotions overflow and become impossible to contain.

“Every character is like my son. At the end of my life, I might have thousands of children”
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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, doused in glib humour, gives Calleja’s oeuvre an understated yet earnest poeticism.

 

Studio shoot by Nacho Sanchez Corbacho. All artworks courtesy of Javier Calleja.

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