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From my city to yours: muralist Okuda San Miguel on the best of Madrid’s art scene

The Spanish artist recently unveiled a new mural in his home city, celebrating racial and gender diversity. We discuss his favourite galleries and exhibitions and discover his perfect day out in Madrid.

By Nora Wallaya
Published 28 Jul 2021, 06:00 BST
The new flamenco

The artist and sculptor lives and works in Madrid. Pictured is a flamenco-inspired mural unveiled in the town of Ronda, Andalucia in May 2021.

Photograph by Omar H. García

A major city may conjure images of grey shops and skyscrapers, but not to Okuda San Miguel — for him, they’re a blank canvas. The Madrid-based artist has been painting the world’s buildings in his signature geometrical technicolour for over a decade, ranging from a tribute to multiculturalism on the corner of a retail block in New York City, to a series of eye-popping patterns on the side of a Moscow apartment complex. Even a 90-year-old Cantabrian lighthouse was given a fresh coat in 2020 — looking out across the Atlantic, the beacon is now more luminous than ever before.

Okuda’s influences are varied and diverse, but the giants of Surrealism — Dalí, Picasso, Magritte and Ernst — loom large, as does global culture. The ancient iconography and indigenous artwork he’s encountered on his travels has inspired the recurring motifs he uses in his artwork. And whether it’s designing murals, sculpting figurines or preparing installations for festivals or exhibitions, Okuda’s ideas are pulled together in his Madrid studio.

El Beso Multicolor (‘the multicolour kiss’), on Madrid Río by Plaza Río 2 shopping centre, is a piece of LGBTQ+ activism, celebrating all genders and races.

Photograph by Ink and Movement

Tell us about your new mural in Madrid.

I spent so much time away from my team during the pandemic. And our coming back together coincided with the Madrid Pride celebrations [25 June to 4 July], so my new mural in Madrid Río, El Beso Multicolor (‘the multicolour kiss’) is a piece of LGBTQ+ activism, celebrating all genders and races. We finished it in four days — the biggest challenge by far was having to use scaffolding instead of a crane. It’s located very close to my new studio, which I’ll be working in later this summer. The reception, both in real life and through social media, has been super positive.

You’ve painted murals all over the world. How do global cultures inspire your work?

I’m inspired by all cultures – mostly African and Asian — but Spanish culture is my primary inspiration for modernist and surrealist art. I use dots in my artwork, which is inspired by the music, style and culture of flamenco. I’m influenced by my friends, too — Spanish artists like Sixe Paredes, Spok Brillor and Felipe Pantone are a constant source of inspiration for me. 

As an artist, what do you like most about living in Madrid?

I live in the city centre, where I can walk to the best art museums in the world. Like the Reina Sofia, with Picasso and Dalí artworks, and the Prado Museum, which has Bosch exhibits. The Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch is one of my favourite artists in history — his piece The Garden of Earthly Delights inspired me a lot.

In 2020, Okuda revamped a 90-year-old Cantabrian lighthouse.

Photograph by Beatriz Carretero

Which are your favourite galleries?

For me, the best one in Spain is the Colección SOLO in Madrid — the owner, art collector David Cantolla has maybe the best collection in the world. It’s set in a big space in the city centre, close to the Puerta de Alcalá — it’s super, super amazing. I have a few pieces inside. I also love Kreisler Gallery, in the Salamanca district, which exhibits contemporary Spanish artists, and the Cerquone Gallery, which champions emerging artists.

Tell us how you’d spend your perfect day in the city.

After a long day in the studio working on my and my team’s art and architectural projects, I’ll spend time visiting shows at my favourite museums and galleries in the city centre. I have a lot of actor friends, so I spend time going to the theatre as well, and to opening events at new venues for art or performance. Dinner is with friends or with the artists from the shows — Madrid is filled with excellent restaurants. I love StreetXO and DiverXO — both are crazy places whose food is created by Dabiz Muñoz, a Spanish chef who’s played a huge part in helping DiverXO win three Michelin stars. I love La Primera too. I’ll finish my day at a friend’s club — either Club Malasaña, a jazz club, or Cha Chá, a nightclub that plays dance and electro.

Read more: Discovering nightlife in Madrid, the real city that never sleeps

What are Madrid's top neighbourhoods for art and culture?

Walk around the neighbourhoods of Lavapiés, Chueca (Madrid’s gay area) and Malasaña — these are my personal favourites, and they’re super fun. I live in Embajadores, by Madrid Río. Along here, close to the Matadero Madrid, is where my new studio will be later this summer. Matadero Madrid is a former slaughterhouse and now a fantastic art space in Madrid.

Explore Okuda San Miguel’s artwork on his website, and follow him on Instagram

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