Street art

Street artist Victoriano’s brush with big brands

The Spanish graffiti artist brings his luxury iconography to Hong Kong for his first show here later this month

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 November, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 November, 2015, 8:00am

An obsession with luxury goods won’t make you stand out in brand-hungry Hong Kong. But for graffiti and street artist Victoriano, his love affair with the luxury industry is not related to a particular accessory or pursuit of status.

He’s obsessed with luxury iconography and his first show in Hong Kong later this monthwill display his astute observations of a world in which the power of the brand is absolute.

It’s his skill in creating photorealistic imagery with aerosol paint – three-dimensional images that look like they are bursting out of a wall (or like a crocodile out of an egg, as he did for Lacoste) – that is winning him a global reputation.

Born in Spain, Victoriano started painting when he was 14. “I was painting on streets just for fun – I also wanted to leave something for the future, like a legacy. A few paintings from the first generation of graffiti writers in the city [San Sebastián] had survived and I loved how the paintings stayed there over the years for everyone to see. I guess I wanted to do the same and leave something for me and the future generations. To leave something for my children and my grandchildren.”

This month the artist is staging his first solo show in Hong Kong. The “Cash & Carrier” exhibition will be held at Loft 22 in Central’s California Tower and to generate publicity he will place eight artworks around the city until November 19 as a gift to the people of Hong Kong. One of these artworks will hold a “golden ticket” for the show’s VIP opening night on November 20. The artworks, valued at HK$15,000 each, are graffiti-laden shopping bags (“carriers”) similar to those exhibited at his successful “Cash & Carrier” show in Marbella, Spain, last December. Art lovers can follow Victoriano’s Instagram account each day to look for clues to the city-wide hunt – @victorianoart #CatchtheCarrier.

While some may see this as a quirky publicity stunt, Victoriano says it is a way of giving back to Hong Kong, a city he loves. A nice gesture, considering what the city has taken away from him after government officials painted over his works. But more on that later.

Ordering a cappuccino at a Central restaurant, Victoriano is in a good mood despite the artist-unfriendly interview slot of 10am. “I’m not a morning person,” he says.

Victoriano has held numerous positions as art director and senior designer for companies in Spain and the UK. To some, an artist collaborating with big luxury brands – past clients include Louis Vuitton, DKNY, W Hotel, Yahoo and Converse – might seem odd, but he disagrees. “Sure, one is underground and the other is, I suppose you can call it an above-ground movement. But it’s all about targeting a different audience.”

More brands are seeing the potential of his works, incorporating his photorealism technique into their marketing.

But like many other street artists, Victoriano’s biggest hurdle is bureaucracy. “In Spain it is very difficult – you need to go through a lot of red tape to get permission to paint on public spaces. It’s like that in Hong Kong – you go to the management and then you go to the government …”

He said he was disappointed when he discovered his Reclining Lady artwork on Central’s Aberdeen Street had been removed. “Of course I was sad when I found out it had been painted over. I painted that in 2014, so it didn’t last very long. It’s not the first time it’s happened,” he says, referring to another work on Wyndham Street. “I had permission from a building’s owner, but not the management, to paint a crocodile just over there, but I didn’t even get it finished. Maybe it was too scary for the public. One person just has to complain and it’s over.”

While he says it’s a constant battle with bureaucracy, Victoriano says there have been huge improvements in the city during recent years. “In 2009, when I was first in Hong Kong, there was not much street art. It was quite hidden. I did a painting of an old Chinese woman – it was very realistic – on a wall in Yuen Long – my first painting in Hong Kong.

“It took about six hours and I got a lot of attention from people walking by. It’s still there, which is amazing. Street art really depends on what you do and if you create something beautiful then people love it. I don’t paint offensive images.”

This is evident in the artist’s pieces found around the world, from office buildings in Boston and Seattle to walls in Dubai. “Usually I travel to a place for a specific commission and will leave some more personal works behind as well,” he says.

“I would never paint on anything that is protected or of historical importance. What I do is not offensive,” he says, although he has been in hot water.

“I had a couple of incidents – the first when I was 16 as I was painting the outside of a swimming pool. They took me to court, but everything was sorted out as the owners didn’t want to press charges after they saw the sketches of how the piece was going to look.

“After that I was more careful and only got caught another time. Luckily for me it was a detailed mural and the officers didn’t know whether to arrest me or not as they were impressed with the work. They finally arrested me, but let me go after a few hours.”

“Cash & Carrier”, Nov 21, 11am-8pm; Nov 22, 11am-6pm; Loft 22, 22/F California Tower, 30-32 D’Aguilar St, Central