Okuda San Miguel

That Crazy Genius

07/30/2019 · By María Ballesteros
OKUDA openning
Okuda with one of Rowgelia's costumes that will be part of the ‘Kaos Garden’ show. It will premiere in Ibiza at the end of September to close the summer season at the Amnesia nightclub. © INK and Movement

An explosion of colour. Geometrical shapes. Fantasy animals. Lysergic prints. Imaginary landscapes. Welcome to Okuda’s universe, a sparkling, unprejudiced world expanding at light speed.

A strong smell of paint welcomes us to the studio Okuda (Santander, 1980) has in Madrid. “I can’t smell it anymore,” he says. “Now it’s very faint, actually, it becomes stronger when we’re working on 20 paintings at once.” It takes just a few seconds—the time we need to cross the hall separating the entrance door from the main room—to become familiar with that strong smell dominating almost the entire place, and a few more to feel at home.

Okuda is Óscar San Miguel Erice. He grew up in the Cantabrian city painting graffiti in abandoned factories while failing everything at school, almost recess, too. Things changed when he started his Fine Arts degree. “My parents have always supported me, we’ve always got along, but they saw drawing as a problem rather than a virtue. Since I moved to Madrid to study, their perception has changed and now they’re delighted,” he says with a smile.

With her mother he shares a good relationship and also professional projects. She is in charge of some of the artist’s pieces and sculptures embroidered with wool and thread, using different weaving techniques. Okuda proudly recalls: “I left a bag full of wool balls in a house we have by the sea. When I returned, my mother had made a tower of knitted squares. ‘I did it myself. I learned at nun’s school,’ she said. I thought it was really cool. And then it struck me! I said—let’s try something different. I want to do my paintings with wool.’ I got some canvases, we designed a colour gamut with the wool and assigned a number to each of the composition shapes, and that’s how it all began.”

With Kaos Garden, his upcoming project, he’s taken a new direction. Created alongside DJ Paco Osuna and elrow’art, it is a technological, psychedelic and interactive take on Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Delights. Combining avant-garde art, electronic music and references to classic paintings, it premieres on 28 September at Ibiza’s Amnesia nightclub to close the summer season.

Okuda explains his projects sitting in his studio while part of his team works on several paintings and electronic music plays in the background: “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I come from the 1990s hip hop scene, but I soon got into techno. Mixing my whole universe with the dancefloor and electronic music is something that was already inside of me. Resorting to so many disciplines and getting involved in so many crazy projects has made my work grow.”

“How you dress sends a very important message. My wardrobe is very similar to my paintings”

Clothing brand Desigual, one of the most colourful fashion brands in the market, is also part of the project and will sell a capsule collection. “How you dress sends a very important message. My wardrobe is very similar to my paintings. I also have unique pieces made in places that print all the fabric.”

Among the favourites for the Santander-born artist is Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist he deeply admires and with whom he shares a passion for colours and lysergic and pop imagery: “We both mix ancient ancestral iconography, geometric ornaments… I like to put everything at the same level. Everything going through my mind goes into the salad.”

Among the numerous projects he’s embarked on in 2019 there is a new one—the construction of a Valencian falla (huge papier mâché figures). “It was the first falla made by someone who isn’t from Valencia. It was a success.” In order to introduce locals to Okuda’s work and understand the presence of his falla, a retrospective exhibition at Centro del Carmen was organized during the city’s week-long festivities, which was visited by over 150,000 people. “I think it’s only now that I’m starting to do very powerful things. I think in a more mature, bigger, limitless way,” he says.

He spends most of his time high up. Not only because of his constant travelling: "The sound of planes is reassuring to me." He also says he has an “absolute” need to higher and higher. “I've always had it. When I finished the 25-story building in Toronto, I realized that the power to transform a city's skyline is like magic. I love doing that kind of thing. We used no cranes, just hanging scaffold. These kinds of things get me really excited.”

An exhibit in Manila, a wall in Mauritius, his presence at the Unexpected – Forth Smith contemporary art festival and painting the interior of a silo in Ciudad Real as part of the Titans project will once again show his personal perspective of reality. Having grown up in the graffiti culture and artistically matured in college, what have you learned on the street that you haven't been taught in the classroom? “The confidence to do whatever I want and the belief that there are no limits. I’ve learned to create myself and to create an infinite world. I'm not afraid of anything. I follow my heart to be spontaneous. You just have to believe in it and express it. It's that simple".