It’s hard not to notice the enticing urban art in the distance as you cross Puente Tetuán in Málaga’s Alameda bario. A tall apartment block, adorned with two, large colourful prints – one of a woman in a meditative-like pose, the other of a comic book style fighter jet pilot with an apparent grudge held against ‘d-dogs’ – demands your attention.
This is Soho, Málaga’s decorative and triangular-shaped ‘Barrio de las Artes‘, saying hello.
Most of the street art found in Soho has been around a few years, but the giant prints are relatively new additions, having been installed after the announcement of their high-proflie creators’ involvement at Málaga’s Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) earlier this year.
The men concerned are Shepard Fairey and D*face, who might be considered something of a coup for the CAC, given that the former is the engineer behind the now internationally known ‘obey giant‘ campaign, and the latter arguably contemporary art’s fastest rising talent, but others would doubtless argue that the stature of the CAC is such that it ought to be exhibiting artists of such quality and renown.
The CAC is surrounded by colourful, eye-catching urban art, from the adjacent river banks to nearby shop shutters and walls re-defined as blank canvases, but the CAC’s exterior is surprisingly plain and inconspicuous. As you approach, there is an awkward-looking statue erected outside the entrance, and a sign proclaiming where you are, but there is little else to suggest what fine examples of brilliantly conceived pop-art lie within.
Inside, the colour comes gushing back into view. A giant, rainbow-hued scribble here and a gaudy neon-pink light there; the place screams novelty and bohemianism, or insufferable pretentiousness, depending on your personal idea of what constitutes ‘art’.
For me, this is ‘art’ at its best.
On the left, beyond a quietly disturbing framed photo depicting violence and chaos, is the temporary installation room. Its current occupants are 12 monumental, bronze-sculpted animal heads on poles, each depicting a different sign of the Zodiac, and all assiduously carved by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
In the main gallery, the work of US urban artist Shepard Fairey is copiously displayed to mesmerizing effect. His wide collection of stencil and sticker-based creations make up the Your Eyes Here exhibition – his first in Spain.
Through the use of reverse psychology, he aims to encourage viewers to analyse and discover the meaning of his famous, reinterpreted images in a way that goes beneath the surface. His themes include music, politics and playful irony and outputs from his earlier days as an artist.
For more of Fairey and his Obey Giant campaign, check out his site.
The star of the show, though, is the aptly named D*face, whose ‘life, fame and death’-themed work forms Wasted Youth – his first solo exhibition in Spain. Huge comic book illustrations dominate much of the wall space, but D*face goes about his best work by taking iconic portraits and transmogrifying them into exquisitely horrible masterpieces. In other words, he defaces them.
We’re talking skeletal Queen Elizabeths, half-dead Marilyn Monroes and flesh-eating Che Guevaras here – all neatly arranged in straight lines on bare white walls, as though you’ve stumbled into Dr. Frankenstein’s hall of fame, if the madman had had access to a celebrity graveyard. Some of the handiwork seen in the 8 Queen Lizzy II compositions is particularly outstanding – subtle rips, scratches and scuffs reveal a layer of skull and bone beneath the surface and create an absurd, undead depiction of her majesty, who I’m sure would see the funny side.
Dean Martin, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse and Sid Vicious also feature, looking ready to munch through the nearest brains they can find, and a black-ink, menacing Jim Morrison appears on an old, graffiti-covered school desk amidst a chaotic jumble of sketches and mockups that offer viewers an insight into the Londoner’s mind.
And it doesn’t stop there. Beside the ‘d*faced’ portraits is a giant skeleton, which appears to have just smashed his way through a tiny closet after having spent a long time being locked away. The message of the laborious feature is unclear until you read the title: ‘We’ve all got them’.
For more of D*face check out his site.
The CAC is undoubtedly the highlight of Málaga’s Soho barrio, but there are plenty more examples of impressive and creative street art lurking nearby: a guitar-wielding Jimi Hendrix on the shutters of a music store, for instance, and a shadowed figure applying multicoloured paint to sealed doorways.
There was a time, probably not so long ago, when Malaga was widely regarded, among tourists at least, as relatively unexciting; little more than a gateway to a breadth of swankier, neighbouring resorts on the Costa del Sol.
However, with the development of the Soho area and various other cutting-edge museums around the city, Málaga has clearly – and successfully – managed to reinvent itself over the last few years, and can certainly no longer be perceived in such a way.
The CAC, El Museo Picasso, the Automobile Museum, the elaborate Wine Museum and the multihued, cube-ornamented Pompidou Centre are all shining examples of cultural prestige and innovation, and are helping Málaga – a city once considered fundamentally dull and unspectacular – attain rock star status in the arts world.
For a detailed and labeled map of Málaga’s Soho Barrio, head over to sohomlg.com.