Afternoon sunlight struck one side of a metal silo near Broadway on Tuesday as Okuda San Miguel stood about 30 feet up on the other side, suspended in the bed of a boom lift, dashing spray paint in lines across the surface, protected from the rays by his own canvas.
“I’m moving with the shadows,” he said. “I play with the sun.”
Okuda, as the Madrid-based Spanish artist is known, plays with many things: colors, geometric shapes, your eyes. The 36-year-old describes his visual style as “a mix between pop art and surrealism – and maybe fashion, cinema.” His studio works have appeared in galleries around the world, his striking outdoor art on beer tanks in Germany and an abandoned church in Morocco.
This week, Okuda was in Sacramento for the Wide Open Walls mural festival, one of a handful of international artists participating in a 10-day public art event expected to add 40 large-scale art works to buildings and other public spaces throughout the city.
The event officially began Thursday, but Okuda arrived early – a scheduling necessity, he said. He would be painting a 60-foot tall structure at The Mill development near Broadway and Third Street, and he was giving himself two days. That would not rush him, he said. He once painted a 19-story building in Paris in four.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a skeleton of the mural had taken shape. Around one portion of the silo ran a series of animal faces – a common theme of Okuda’s work – their rough outlines visible along with the odd nose or tongue.
“I paint animals and humans in equilibrium in the world,” Okuda said, “all of them with the universe inside them.”
Each face, in this case, contained a pattern of different-colored shapes, mostly triangles. As an assistant applied colors to one face Tuesday, Okuda worked higher on the silo, painting wavy rings of color that emanated outward from a central point, resembling a psychedelic geode.
Okuda said he chooses what colors to apply as he goes. For faces, he said, “I use (a lot of) color in ... the animals, or the people, to symbolize like they’re only one race. Every race in one.”
Born in Santander in northern Spain, Okuda began creating street art on railroad spaces and abandoned factories in his hometown as a teenager, according to his website. He holds a fine arts degree from a university in Madrid. He is likely among the wider-known artists participating in Wide Open Walls, with an Instagram account that posts to 133,000 followers.
To attract a strong field of international artists to Wide Open Walls, the event is covering the visiting muralists costs, including travel, lodging, supplies and food, said Warren Brand, founder of Los Angeles-based Branded Arts and the mural festival’s curator. Countries represented in the event include Australia, China, Italy, Russia and the United Kingdom.
Okuda was in Sacramento at the same time as an exhibit of his works was appearing at Adda Gallery in Paris. He said he had found painting the silo to be “an interesting proposal.”
“I don’t care about where it’s happening,” he said. “For me, the important thing is what is happening.”
The convergence of an estimated 50 muralists on Sacramento over these 10 days, Okuda said, should leave a lasting impression on the city.
“I think my work has changed the world, with the colors, in a more positive way,” he said. “And the rest of the artists and me together, in the same place, is a very special thing that of course changes the place, more than only me.”
Other international artists participating in Wide Open Walls include:
▪ Askew One, New Zealand: Elliot O’Donnell, who goes by Askew One, has artistic roots in Auckland’s graffiti scene. His murals often feature detailed, nuanced portraits that, according to his website, explore “themes of the human diaspora and its driving factors.” Mural location: Pipeworks Brewery, 116 North 16th St.
▪ Caratoes, Hong Kong: Born in Belgium and living in Hong Kong, Caratoes has said she took up street art partly to push back against a traditional upbringing. She has painted walls around the world and done commission work for clients including Nike and Absolut Vodka. Location: Food 4 Less, 4555 Mack Road.
▪ Jorit Agoch, Italy: Naples native Jorit Agoch is known for his hyper-realistic portraits. His subjects have included Jimmy Kimmel, the soccer legend Diego Maradona and the rapper Nas. His portraits, according to his website, often feature two red lines on the cheek, referring to ancient African rituals. Location: Jazz Alley, 1000 K St.
▪ Lora Zombie, Russia: Self-taught artist Lora Zombie has become well known for colorful, whimsical creations featuring pop-culture themes. She paints a lot of animals, including unicorns, and has an Instagram page that has gained nearly 200,000 followers. She often works in dripping watercolors. Location: R Street Corridor, 1729 13th St.
▪ Phlegm, United Kingdom: A cartoonist and illustrator, Phlegm’s art is described as depicting “fantastical, mechanized urban landscapes” in often monochromatic tones. Phlegm’s worldwide works include an eight-story mural in Toronto completed last year. Location: The Bank, J and 7th streets.