Artist Okuda San Miguel on Democratizing Art, Polyamorous Marriages, and the Importance of Partying
The Spanish bad boy Okuda San Miguel is a maximalist and rebellious street artist known for larger-than-life, surreal works like 2015’s “La Iglesia Skate.” For the work, San Miguel transformed an old Spanish church into a new being by filling the insides with bright bursts of color and funky shapes, and, as the name suggests, adding a skate park for the kids. Having developed a career working on massive projects like this, the artist took on a new challenge partnering with 1800 Tequila by creating a limited edition bottle to celebrate the 10th year of their Artist Series, following in the footsteps of masters like Enoc Perez, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring. The collaboration makes sense, as San Miguel’s art is simply a reflection of his adventurous and sparkling way of life. In the spirit of life, love, and tequila, the artist answered a few questions lifted from Glenn O’Brien’s legendary 1977 interview with Andy Warhol. Cheers.
ERNESTO MACIAS: How does it feel that now many more people have access to your art via tequila bottles?
OKUDA SAN MIGUEL: I think it’s interesting because, let’s say that we are giving an opportunity for those people who cannot buy a large-format work of mine to have a collector’s bottle—in a way, it is democratizing art a bit.
MACIAS: And there is also a part that is digital experience with Snapchat.
SAN MIGUEL: I am very interested in the digital world and social networks. I often use Instagram for my work every day. I think it is very good to show more than one aspect of the artist, undress a little, and show the process of the works. Also, above all, to involve the public with your work.
MACIAS: Did you get good grades in school?
SAN MIGUEL: When I was little I never had good grades because I spent all day on the streets playing soccer. My parents had a restaurant, so I had to stay out very late waiting for them to close. When I started concentrating on art I already had super grades.
MACIAS: What did you do for fun as a teenager?
SAN MIGUEL: I think I was an atypical teenager because I remember that all my school friends went to discos, but I started going to clubs very late. I started doing graffiti in 1996 or 1997, we spent the day in abandoned factories in places that nobody cared about but for us it was magic. We could paint and paint and nobody said anything. It was like a cult; sometimes we even cooked inside the abandoned factories. When I moved to Madrid when I was 20-years-old, I started going to clubs after a brutal apprenticeship in the streets.
MACIAS: What was your first ambition?
SAN MIGUEL: I think my first ambition was to paint in Germany when graffiti was super powerful there, with artists like DAIM, Seak, and Loomit, who I loved. My ambition was to be at an event with them. I was invited for the first time to the Wall Street Monument in 2012 in Brisbane with all of them; it was a powerful moment. We were younger than them, more childish and crazier. They slept, they got up super early and we were partying at night, we went to sleep and then painted. In the end, the climate and the country where you come from has a lot to do with your creations. So what we created was cooler and super crazy. It was a response to our culture.
MACIAS: Who were the first artists to influence you?
SAN MIGUEL: The first were the surrealists that I learned in my academic days. Above all, I was crazy about Salvador Dalí, then Max Ernst, and with René Magritte; then with El Bosco and later on with Renaissance and Baroque artists. But above all, the surrealists, even in my graffiti letters.
MACIAS: What advice would you give a person who wants to be an artist?
SAN MIGUEL: The most important thing to be an artist is having a unique identity and the ability to transmit. And you do not have to explain anything of the works. In the end, it is to feel and that’s it. To make your personal path, and to not care or pay attention to the structures formed by the art market. If you do not belong to anything, then you are better following your personal path and creating a unique style.
MACIAS: Do you think the art world is dead?
SAN MIGUEL: One thing is the art world and another thing is the world of the art market, which are two different things. As an artist, I obviously believe that art will never die because there may be pandemics, there may be nothing in the world, but art will never abandon you. Art never leaves you. I have used it to reflect, to open new paths within my work, to make new formats of work—we don’t stop working. Now, the art market— it is not that it is dead, but it is trapped inside a crazy bubble. I try to let the people of my studio get “intoxicated” by this, and I focus only on creating. That is why I always distinguish between what is the art and the art market.
MACIAS: Of all the pieces you have made, is there one that is your favorite?
SAN MIGUEL: I always say one because it was a before and after in my career, and it is the church in the north of Spain—that was a media frenzy. It is the only project I have done because I fell in love with the place and wanted to do it, so we did crowdfunding and several brands supported me. It is a clear message that wanting is power, and if you want to transform something and fall in love in the end you can achieve it, regardless of whether or not you are called to do projects. Also, it was like a crossroads of disciplines and opposing worlds—skateboarding, religion, classical architecture and then contemporary painting, that is, a symbol of new spaces and new lives that certain, almost-abandoned places take.
MACIAS: What is your favorite color?
SAN MIGUEL: As a child, I always used to say orange or yellow, and today I think I need the whole color circle always balanced with black and white, even to dress. Basically, I love all colors.
MACIAS: Pepsi or Coke?
SAN MIGUEL: Coca-Cola always.
MACIAS: Do you draw or create art every day?
SAN MIGUEL: I don’t know whether I draw or create, but I’m always floating ideas. I can’t stop.
MACIAS: Do you think humans should live in outer space?
SAN MIGUEL: I found out this week, my friend told me, that NASA is already beginning to think about the first houses. I don’t know if on the Moon or somewhere like that, but in space. So the truth is that I am not very clear about it. At the moment I think we are not doing very well enough here on this planet to go to another one and fuck them, too.
MACIAS: When you are not working, what do you like to do?
SAN MIGUEL: Really what I like to do in life is to travel and learn about other cultures. Leaving part of myself there, creating, and traveling are my passions, and I do them out of necessity to live, and I am happy to do so. Outside of that, I like to party, meet up with my artist friends, although many of them have clubs, are DJs, and others are actors. I go to the theater, and I love going to the cinema. I think cultural life, especially in a city as lively as Madrid—I need it. It keeps me alive. It’s a source of inspiration.
MACIAS: What is your morning routine?
SAN MIGUEL: When I am in Madrid it is one and when I travel it is another. In Madrid, I get up and usually go straight to the studio, and on the way, we buy Spanish omelets for breakfast together. I work all day and try to finish early to go out at night, but not every day. I think it is a mental break to go to parties, dance, and be with friends.
MACIAS: How long do you use the phone in a day?
SAN MIGUEL: If I’m in the studio focused on a piece and listening to music, I leave it for hours. But I am always checking.
MACIAS: Do you believe in marriage?
SAN MIGUEL: The truth is that I believe more in polyamory. I don’t know about marriage, but maybe marriage in the non-canonical way. It can be three people.
MACIAS: Have you ever been in love?
SAN MIGUEL: I suppose, two or three times, and with people of different genders.
MACIAS: Have you ever hated someone?
SAN MIGUEL: I try not to contaminate myself with that or with grudges or with ego. The truth is that I forget things very quickly.
MACIAS: Have you ever tried to grow a mustache?
SAN MIGUEL: Once, for Movember, I made a mural with various icons of history that wear a mustache, like Gandhi and Dalí, and well, I grew a mustache. But normally I don’t really like a beard.
MACIAS: Can you dance?
SAN MIGUEL: When I was younger, I used to breakdance in the city where I grew up. Now, as I’m older, I like to dance techno.
MACIAS: What is your favorite scent?
SAN MIGUEL: Some smells or essences suddenly remind me of certain things or make me nostalgic, such as heart lollipops. Sometimes I get into a taxi or Uber or something that smells like that; there must be an air freshener that smells like that. In general, I like fruity essences.
MACIAS: What is the first thing you notice in a person?
SAN MIGUEL: Their aura. I have the ability to see outside the body and see a bit of how the aura is emerging from people. I read the energy of people; they are not prejudiced, they are vibes. Then I read their facial expressions.
MACIAS: Do you believe in god?
SAN MIGUEL: I think I have a very broad concept of religion because of everything I have traveled and seen. God is one thing and religion is another. In the end, I think it is more important to be a good person, and karma is worth more than all the faith that you can have in one god or another.