John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
With bright paint and an eye out for the police, Francisco de Pájaro transforms street rubbish into hilarious googly-eyed freaks.
Most people don't give garbage a second glance. Artist Francisco de Pájaro gives it a second, third, and fourth glance, and then returns later to doll it up into something resembling a really mess-up human face.
Well, not just human – using bright, messy paints and a knack for arranging trash that rivals Japanese ikebana masters, Pájaro has transformed a construction dumpster into a toothy shark, a stack of cardboard boxes into a lecherous centipede, and piles of bin bags into what looks like a Smurf snuggle party. "Art Is Trash," as he is known in street-art circles (in his native Spain, it's "El Arte es Basura"), has never met a heap of rubbish that he can't in some way make googly-eyed hilarious.
James Buxton, an editor at Global Street Art, recently interviewed Pájaro through a translator to find out how he became the Banksy of dreck. It seems he was almost forced into this odd line of personal expression, according to part of the interview:
Rubbish is the only legal place you can make art on the street. There was a law in 2006 in Barcelona which outlawed painting on the street, suddenly all of the freedom was eliminated – all the best artists from Barcelona left. I couldn’t paint on the floor, on the walls, anywhere, but I had a need to express myself, so where? Three undercover police officers came when they saw me painting on an electricity box, so I started on rubbish, on a chair, on a mattress, little by little, I made little discoveries. First of all I just painted on cans, objects, and then I thought I can put an arm, as a way of getting round not being able to paint on the walls on the floor, I started painting on rubbish. You’ve got to improvise. (Tears a piece of a tape sticks it to my beer can) That’s an arm or a leg. The police in Spain they are much stricter, they don’t let you do anything, here the police are different, they are more tolerant, here they see it and they say: “Hey okay, it’s rubbish, it’s intelligent.” Street art has a short life, you make it, it lives and dies.
Pájaro's installations have such a short life that they're often gone by the next day, rearranging by garbage collectors, the wind and rain, and presumably animal and human scavengers. Fortunately, the artist photographs them for future generations to chuckle over. People in London currently can see some of his new works at the West Bank Gallery. Below are photos from the street component to that show, taken in Notting Hill, Manor House, and east London's famed Brick Lane, a destination spot for heavy-hitting urban artists like ROA and D*Face:
From the gallery show in London:
These are earlier works in Barcelona, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, and Ibiza. The creatures have sloppy-looking features, like they put on makeup during a roller-coaster ride. That's because the artist had to work fast to avoid the police: