Okuda San Miguel Is a Modern-Day Michelangelo

The Spanish urban street artist debuts in Las Vegas

While artists throughout the late 1400s and early 1500s created elaborate frescoes inside churches and palaces that are now some of history’s most recognized works of art, that medium has somewhat waned over the course of the last 400-plus years.

“The truth, today, [is that it] is quite hard for one artist to work on a church. It is more a thing of Renaissance or classic [painters],” says well-known Spanish urban street artist Okuda San Miguel, 36, who has completed entire visual transformations of not one but three churches around the globe. He has even called the Kaos Temple in Llanera, Spain, which he adorned with the vibrant geometric shapes he has come to be known for, his own Sistine Chapel.

But the modern-day Michelangelo (a description he calls “funny” in an interview with Vegas Seven) isn’t a one-trick pony. In addition to the mural works with which he has decorated city blocks all over the world, the artist is also an accomplished sculptor and photographer. And this weekend he’s making his Las Vegas debut with both a mural and sculpture installation at the Life Is Beautiful Music & Art Festival. The sculpture he has created is a giant, multicolored bear, using interesting geometric combinations to make the beast come to life.

Vegas Seven was eager to hear what he had in store for the accompanying mural, his thoughts on Las Vegas as a visual-art destination and what his bold, bright creativity will add to the streets of Downtown.

You have created both a sculpture and a mural for Life Is Beautiful this year. Will the mural communicate with the sculpture in any way? Will the two works be related at all?

No. This time I [have] another concept: Venus located around my own natural landscape.

Las Vegas has quite a distinct visual culture, especially with the use of neon. Have you ever been here? What are your thoughts on the city?

I was there 10 years ago. It was very funny because I went for the Latin Grammy Awards, where my friend La Mala Rodríguez won an award. She invited me to every private and special event for the Grammys’ artists. It was fun. I really enjoy the crazy lights of the city, and I love the fact that Las Vegas never sleeps.

With the Life Is Beautiful murals and nearby installations, like Ugo Rondinone’s “Seven Magic Mountains,” it seems that Las Vegas is undergoing a transformation toward becoming a true visual-art destination. Would you agree?

It looks like Vegas is bringing [in] more culture and art. It’s a perfect place to bring art [to] the street. It can only be better and more beautiful when you mix the lights and the architecture with the installations and murals.

Okuda San Miguel at the Kaos Temple

Had you heard of the Life Is Beautiful festival prior to being asked to create works for it?

Yes. I [had] because I have worked with [mural curators] Justkids in the past. Justkids is [one] of the best urban art curators. They produce really nice street art events around the world, including Life Is Beautiful. I was invited last year to a very good project [with them] in Arkansas, and I experienced how professional they are. I am super-happy to do the big sculpture and the big wall this year with them at Life Is Beautiful.

Freedom, or the duality of freedom and oppression, often inspires the art you create. With that being said, do you intend for your works to make political or social statements?

My work talks about this duality because capitalism tells us we are free, but we are really oppressed by the system. Money rules everything and then [causes] corruption in different levels all across society. It is a fake freedom.

Who or what molded or impacted your personal style?

My work relates to artists like [Takashi] Murakami, [Salvador] Dalí, [René] Magritte, Mark Ryden, Roy Lichtenstein. I discovered some of them in my academic [career] and [they] have been an inspiration in my evolution as an artist.

Looking through your portfolio on your website, I couldn’t help but notice that it seems you’ve really honed a signature style in the past five years or so. The works became much more vibrant and you started to focus on the intricate geometric forms you’re known for. Was there a reason for that shift?

I believe it all [is] just part of my progression as an artist. [I am] very influenced by [my] constant traveling around the planet, [which] started five years or so ago.

One thing that Life Is Beautiful aims to do is to create pause for attendees—to inspire them to reflect, to live in the moment, to enjoy the here and now. Does your art speak to that idea?

Yes. My work invites the people to reflect about concepts like identity, the meaning of life, nature, capitalism, modernity, roots, love or freedom.