The Big Moves

Interview by Evan Pricco // Portrait by German Rigol


In street art, the topic has always revolved around the question of the next big thing in muralism, or the next “name” to take the movement to a new level, the discussion always about the question mark rather than buzzing about what was actually happening on the walls themselves. In fact, what was happening on the walls was often the least discussed part of an important moment in art, when our city streets were being adorned by a group of muralists who were reinventing and reimagining one of art’s most ancient practices. Most academics and enthusiasts, and even the artists themselves, kept wondering when the “new muralism” movement, led mostly by an incredibly gifted generation of European painters, was going to evolve or die-out. Once Italian painter BLU famously began painting over his murals in Bologna and other cities in retribution for collectors trying to “preserve” his work, thereby removing it from its original context for institutional gain, it felt like an era had ended. 
Spanish painter, muralist and installation artist Octavi Arrizabalaga, known famously as ARYZ, has continually been at the forefront of an evolution which we now identify with the umbrella term of street art. When he came onto the scene as a muralist, the colors were that much bolder, the compositions that much more refined, as if he were deftly painting studio works on 100-foot plus walls, as he breathed new life into centuries old city streets with vitality and fresh perspective. The works seemed both incongruous and right at home, a duality that ARYZ seems to have used to his advantage as he emerges now, once again, helming the evolution of the genre.



Over the past few years, ARYZ has begun to create monumental sculptural-installation-paintings, often displayed in both abandoned and active churches, works that are seemingly disparate and unexpected visual immersions, but nicely inhabit these places. The works contain an expectation and DNA of movement, whether dance or battle, sport or theater. What is most evident is that ARYZ plays with space in ways that we rarely see; and his eye for detail, his ability to let happy accidents occur, is part of why he has seen success in almost everything he does. He tells us he’s “just working things out,” but in 2022, 10 years after our first feature with him, he seems to be working out just fine… 
Evan Pricco: I was struck by something you observed in our conversation earlier, about sitting in front of the Guernica at the Reina Sofia in Madrid and staring at the bull. It was remarkable, obviously, because the war just began but also just the idea of focusing on the nuance of such a massive work. What can you learn and absorb from work like that?
ARYZ: I went specifically to Reina Sofia to see the bull. I love the decisions Picasso made that are exposed in the actual painting. I enjoy it very much when you can see that the artist changed his mind. The process pictures from Dora Maar are also absorbing. I like to see how this iconic piece evolved from the beginning to its end.

Once in a while when I’m at a museum, I do this exercise where I’m staring at a piece I really like… and I think, what in it would bother me if I had painted it? It helps me to see that I give importance to things that don’t actually matter. Everything is perfect in its own context. So in Picasso’s bull head, the fact that the forehead lines are partially erased in white, or how the tongue or the ear are placed, that would annoy me if it was a painting of mine. But it's fantastic as it is. So that makes me realize that I have dogmas in my work that are not helping me.

Probably if I had to steal a painting, it would be either Picasso’s Guernica or one of the midgets from Velazquez at the Prado museum. Any help is welcome. 


Summer 2022 Cover Story: ARYZ's Big Moves


Well, we just published it, so help is on the way. I love what you just said about how you observe another work, and that is such an insight into what you do. Scale is something that does not bother you. Since you emerged onto the scene, you were immediately creating huge murals, and your current work features massive installations. What does scale mean to you, and why are you so comfortable with it? 
When the piece is bigger, the interaction is not with humans anymore, but with architecture and the space that surrounds the work. I have the feeling that I have more freedom on a bigger scale. I don’t need to be as careful as I should be when I’m working on a small painting. There is more margin for mistakes, for errors.
Maybe that is why you admire the marks in the Guernica? I thought about you today when I was walking around NYC, but what did graffiti teach you about placement? It seems like you are so smart in the way you present your sculptures and the use of space, that I wonder what it is you learned about presentation from working on the street.
Painting in the street, of course, helped. From the very beginning I learned that things needed to be seen from a distance. I painted several pieces in abandoned spaces, and the picture was the only thing I had after all the hard work. So I learned how to get rid of unnecessary details that would not be seen from a distance. The general image is what matters.
I’ve also learned to measure spaces by seeing a picture and to size the objects I’m painting so they can be relevant when you see them placed. Most times I would do them bigger, but my logistics have certain limitations at the moment. Many of these are paid with the money I do from selling prints and books, so there is not a big budget.
I think this part is important, because I like to see how people show their installations and how they interact with the surroundings or how they create an experience. A friend introduced me to Jim Shaw’s art, and I loved it. I felt very attracted to this theatrical presentation of a body of work. Suddenly the viewer can walk all around and immerse themselves in the artwork. Like a VR experience, but without the V. 


Summer 2022 Cover Story: ARYZ's Big Moves


I’ve been speaking to artists a lot about movement in recent months, and not in the traditional sense but sort of these hints of how artists interpret movement. One of the things I love about your work is the "blurred" effect you achieve in your paintings. There is a technique here you were talking about, and I wondered if you could expand on how you create such movement? 
I’ve been obsessed with translating movement to a static image. So during these last few years, when I create an image, if I want to be more dynamic, I add a part of what it would be called, in animation, a key frame (a relevant part of a movement). So I try to have a couple of them in the same image. If I’m painting a dancer, I try to keep some of the hand or leg movements, having in consequence, three or four arms and legs. That way, you can imagine what was happening in the sequence.
You painted in hidden back alley streets, then large walls on the side of buildings, and now you put your work up in these places where contemporary art is not normally seen, especially someone your age, in their 30s. What draws you to such non-traditional exhibition spaces? I keep thinking that it must feel almost overwhelming to place your work in these century-old churches, but maybe there’s a dichotomy that is stunning to see. Was it difficult, at first, to place your work in a church? 
Back in 2019 I participated in a project that consisted of three exhibitions in France, and it required a lot of effort and time. But the main reason I accepted doing the whole Pugna project was because there was a chance to do something inside a church. I wouldn’t have ever imagined that I would be able to have an artwork inside an active church, even temporarily, without being arrested. But with the help of the guys from Hangar107 it happened. 
To make the long story short, I did a drawing for the space, and Jean-Guillaume from Hangar107 presented it as a biblical representation of Jacob wrestling the Angel. And It worked! 
The other church installations happened more organically once I made the first one, and somehow, things started to flow. I like the direction where these pieces are going, but at the moment I can’t afford doing a lot of them, mainly because it’s a whole odyssey to create one of these in my studio. I need to paint them by parts if I want the installation to be taller than 13-feet, which a lot of them are. Actually, I never see the piece as a whole before it’s placed in the final location.
What happens to me in these situations, as well as happens when I’m painting murals, is that I’m very much looking forward to making them happen. They take some time and work to prepare and paint, but once they are done and you are supposed to enjoy the moment, I’m already thinking about something else that I need to finish for next month. There is no time to relax, and I think that feeling has been extended in today’s society. But from a distance, I still think it is very impressive that they, the organizers and everyone involved, allowed me to do things in these types of places.


Summer 2022 Cover Story: ARYZ's Big Moves


Do you still get a rush from painting murals, and what keeps you motivated to paint them? 
I like to paint in general, and painting murals is a great exercise. I’ve learned a lot, not only technically, but also how to organize myself in front of a big painting. I still enjoy it once in a while, but I’m not as motivated as I was. I have a lot of fun being at the studio and painting, so I don’t need to go that far to enjoy painting. 
Nowadays, for me, it feels like I’m preparing for a match. The days before starting the mural I’m preparing myself. It’s like a fight that takes several days. During the mural process I will be totally immersed in it, so I try to be a bit prepared mentally and physically.
At least now, I bring a colored sketch. So I know that, in the worst case, it should look something similar to that. But as I mentioned many times, I used to go without any drawing at all, or maybe with a few lines in a small piece of paper. I can’t do that anymore, I would suffer a lot, because you can’t tell how the painting will evolve. I do that on small sized pieces, where you can cover the painting or throw it away, but some of these murals are on the surface of a 115-foot building. The last time I freestyled a wall, I had nightmares and couldn’t sleep. That’s why I prefer to bring a sketch or something more elaborate. 
As part of a particular mural movement in European street art, and after nearly a decade or more later, what do you think of that era? For many artists, it was like a band on tour, city to city mural-hopping. 
When people see what I do, usually they are surprised that I’ve been in so many places painting murals. Well, yes, I have been! But when I was in a particular city, or when I was in the mode of painting a lot of murals, I just saw the paint supply stores, hotels and lots of walls when I was in a given place! Honestly, I feel like I should’ve enjoyed those trips a bit more. I was trying so hard to do a good job, that I forgot about the rest. Some of those walls were painted in four days, and the day after, I was heading to the airport. There was no budget for staying more days, and I didn’t have money to extend my stay at the hotel, so in my early walls, it was always pretty much a hit and run.
I feel we put a lot of energy into projects that occasionally were not worth it. Okay, we were getting our trip and materials paid. And sometimes we even had a hotel; but there were also times when the “place” to stay was baaaad! And, of course, at times, we had to pay for our meals, too. My feeling is that many times we put in more from our part than organizers did from theirs. It was good when the conditions were clear from the very beginning, so you knew where you were going. If they had a lower budget but people were nice, intentions were good and things were smooth, projects were welcome. There were also some good projects where things were smooth, but those were rare.
It was fun, though. However, I feel we learned how to deal with difficult situations and still managed to finish our thing. But of course all these problems that took place during the process affected the result negatively. There are some crazy stories behind those painted walls.


Summer 2022 Cover Story: ARYZ's Big Moves


Who are your influences these days? I feel like I see classic influences in your work, but I wonder if ballet, or theater, is an influence. 
I go a lot through old pictures. As I said earlier, movement has been one of my obsessions, so I have quite a few screenshots of dancing sequences, as well as some old pictures from theater plays.

It depends on the moment. Lately I’ve been interested in Baroque backgrounds, those paintings where there is a figure standing in front, and in the background you have a field or some nature; these are the ones that I’ve been looking at for a series of work I’ve been doing.


Summer 2022 Cover Story: ARYZ's Big Moves
Summer 2022 Juxtapoz Quarterly, with ARYZ cover art

A lot of people seem to be rejuvenated or exhausted, some ready to get back on the treadmill and move or some to just stay in place. What do you have planned for the rest of 2022?
I’m fixing the studio, and my plan is to have a big part of it ready this year. In the meantime, there are a couple walls that I’ll paint and probably another one of these installations I have been doing. I’m also working on some paintings… but as there is no deadline for the paintings, I’m just trying things out.