Pez’s tagline “smiling since 1999” describes his art to a tee. There’s no mistaking Pez’s signature grinning fish, which he first developed in his native Barcelona. Well-travelled and adding colour to walls everywhere, we catch up with Pez to talk about all things fishy.
Check out this awesome Pez slideshow:
I started painting when I was 14 but got into trouble with the police (and my mother) so I stopped for a while. In 1999, aged 23, I met Zosen and discovered real graffiti, bombing trains and painting all over the city.
I started painting with letters Pez (“Fish” in English) just because I found a way to mix letters and the shape of a fish. I created a “logo-tag” (see the photo below)! It happened after a night of inspiration. I was looking for a signature or graffiti tag and I wanted to do something a bit different to other writers.
The Pez logo-tag
One day I painted a character near the letters “Pez;” I saw that the character is more universal (less encoded than the graffiti letters). Everybody can understand a character, from young people to old people. I decided that it was better to paint only a clever character and not ‘encoded’ letters.
I loved Keith Haring and other logo artists that were easily recognized. I thought about how to reach more people on the streets so I considered giving a positive message with a clever, easily recognised image. When I created a character I found a way to make smiling contagious – it was funny to me that people couldn’t help but smile; it makes me laugh like one of my fish! I enjoy knowing that people will smile that day after I paint a new piece on the street!
Pez with Zosen
Normally though the police don’t care if your message is positive or negative - they only see a graffiti vandal painting on the streets. It’s quite different in South America: they appreciate that you put colours on the streets and I think it’s easier to speak with the authorities.
On Barcelona, Spain and Beyond
I had a lot of great experiences painting in Barcelona; people would give us food and drinks when we were painting on the streets. It was an amazing time; lots of friends from around Europe came to paint with us in Barcelona.
Barcelona from 2000 to 2005 was a street art paradise, you could paint everywhere, even in the city centre, in broad daylight without permission without being troubled by the police. Lots of artists from around the world were painting in Barcelona, doing big murals in the center, on railways, etc.
By 2005 the city was saturated with tags and vandalism and the authorities decided to clean it all, including the artistic walls. It was shit. A lot of great works was erased. However, it did clear away the artists who were only painting because it was fashionable. After that only the artists who had art in their blood continued to find ways to paint on the streets.
Today we have fewer artists but Barcelona is still good, there are lots of spots with painted shop shutters. There is street art on every corner in the city centre but not like 2005. Barcelona is still a great city to see street art (editor’s note – my experiences in Barcelona centre were quite different; it was challenging to find a lot of street art in the centre, partly perhaps because the outskirts of the city were so rich in art).
My best experience in Spain was when I travelled to the Canary Islands with my friend Kenor in 2006. It was winter in Barcelona but it was summer out there; we painted every day for a month, going to the beach and having fun with the locals. I loved the flow of the people and it was easy to find great spots. The Canary Islands weren’t saturated like Barcelona.
Pez has travelled through South America (Caracas, Bogota and Lima), Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei), America (NY, LA, Portland) and Europe (UK, Spain, Hamburg/Germany, Paris/France, etc.).
Travel is really important for a street artist, not only to be present in each big city in the World, but because when you travel it opens your mind to new forms, new colours and new ways to keep doing your passion with a changing focus. Cities gives me new inspirations and it’s good to do some homages to the things you typically find in each city; it’s really funny!
For me a new city is like a new white canvas, I want to paint it all! I love to meet with artists from around the World and share and mix our styles on a wall doing an amazing piece that I couldn’t do alone. I’m planning to go to Ecuador in September and Puerto Rico in November (I’ll probably jump to Miami for Art Basel). My favourite place to paint now is Bogota, Colombia; there are lots of walls and it’s permissive. The police don’t cares about graffiti artists - they like graffiti and sometimes the police say “oh, it’s is looking nice, that’s wonderful!” It’s amazing to hear that from the police!
In the last few years I have tried to clean up my lines, to make them straighter. I’m becoming a perfectionist (when I have time). I like to paint canvases with spray cans (like I would paint a wall) but sometimes I use acrylics and markers for little canvases. I enjoy working on a blank piece of paper with a pencil and an eraser, where my imagination becomes a reality!
Right now I’m working on 3D sketches for a fountain sculpture. It’s an installation that I’m making for a street festival in Ecuador. I’m also working on 3D designs for some plush toys that are going to be released soon. I would like to work with animation and video too, like the video that I put in Tony’s Gallery for my solo show. I love to try new surfaces and experimenting with new products and materials!
Graffiti is for everybody! The walls are for everybody: just go to the street and paint your piece. I enjoy graffiti a lot but I enjoy most knowing that people enjoy the things that I’m doing. Contagious smiles are amazing. They can erase our walls, but they never can erase our dreams! Graffiti: 1, Police: 0!