Street artist Okuda San Miguel, knew that the Spanish church was special the minute he saw it. And from that first moment, it became his passion project. He just had to do something spectacular with it.
Originally built in 1912, the Church of Santa Barbara in Llanera, Spain had fallen into disrepair, but San Miguel saw so much beauty and potential in the bones of the sacred space.
“I fell in love with it,” he says. “I decided to talk with the owners. They knew my work, and they told me that I could do whatever I wanted.”
The result was an unbelievably cool skate park now known as the Kaos Temple. San Miguel painted nearly every surface of the interior and the once derelict space is now bursting with color. Transforming a church into a mecca for skaters also launched the artist to worldwide fame.
Now, San Miguel is bringing his colorful, surreal work to Los Angeles with a new show titled, “Mayan Renaissance,” at Downtown Los Angeles’ Corey Helford Gallery. While he’s here, he plans to put his mark on the city of angels. Along with the gallery show, he’ll also be completing a mural in the city — though the location is yet to be announced.
“I prefer to arrive at the place and after think about the idea and the composition,” he says. “I like to draw on the walls. You know, directly.”
It’s a fascinating and challenging process, as San Miguel uses the sides of large walls the way other artists might use a sketchbook. He simply comes up with ideas and draws his outlines right on the sides of buildings. Then he attacks with spray paint — creating blasts of color in a dreary world.
Okuda developed his style in the late 90’s in Spain. Growing up in a small town on the northern coast, he says he didn’t have any traditional street art to reference. He just knew that he wanted to create art everywhere, on the walls, on the street, and out in the open. He drew upon his education and knowledge of classic famous painters to create his own artistic style.
“That’s why my kind of street art is so different than the others,” he says. “Because my inspiration came from surrealism.”
San Miguel’s pieces often blend animals and humans, formed by geometric slices of color. He doesn’t want the people in his work to represent one just race or culture, but instead all of them at once. The many colors representing the vast rainbow of identities and cultural heritage that make up all of us (and the artist himself). He then brings in stark grey accents to represent the inner life of his subjects, almost standing in for their souls, he says. The style makes his work instantly recognizable.
Though the themes he tackles are continually evolving, San Miguel often returns to exploring the dichotomy of the past and future, searching for the meaning of life, and criticizing capitalism. In his new show, he mixes classical Gods and mythology with pop culture. Mixing modern problems, ideas, and figures with ancient mythology, he hopes to help people make connections between the lessons of the past and our current situation.
The show also features a special piece inspired by the current state of American politics. Like many artists we’ve spoken to this year, San Miguel feels the need to address Donald Trump — particularly after witnessing the push towards closing our borders and the rise of white nationalism. It was just too much for the typically a-political artist to ignore.
Mayan Renaissance will be on display at the Corey Helford Gallery until April 29th. You can also check out Okuda’s work on his Instagram. And watch a video of him completing his most recent piece in downtown LA below: