Early Life and Education
Javier Calleja was born in Málaga, Spain in 1971. He began drawing in early childhood, inspired by comics, cartoons and toys.
“Growing up in the 70s and 80s,” he said in a 2020 interview, “my biggest influences were cartoons and comics. In particular Mazinger Z cartoons and Francisco Ibáñez Talavera’s comics. Inspired by those two, I started drawing as a child, so my work developed from there and still carries some of those characteristics.”
During his teen and young adult years, he was more interested in gymnastics than art, and even trained with an eye toward the Olympics.
Calleja began to take his art seriously when he was 25 and enrolled in the fine arts program at Granada University. He received his Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts in 2000, at age 31.
Calleja spends at least twelve hours a day in his studio in Málaga. He draws in black pencil on white paper and expands the drawings into the medium that suits each creation. Calleja paints, prints and sculpts.
He says that he is drawn to minimalist art and sculpture, like the works of Richard Serra, but when he tries to work in the minimalist style, it doesn’t work for him. “I think that my style is more connected with my real beginnings, my childhood, and the drawings I was making then.” he said, “This is why it always felt that this style actually found me and I didn’t find it, and I’m still waiting for it to change. I’m looking to communicate emotions. The feeling of love, magic, or pain, I want to show that second when you feel those emotions. At least this is what I think, but I’m not sure. I like people to experience the sensation of experiencing the moment of magic. Being lost, confused, heart beating stronger, I love that effect.”
Calleja draws wide-eyed children, often with dark phrases painted on their shirts, or on the painting’s background. The works are often darkly humorous and have found wide audiences globally. Calleja’s secondary-market record broke US$1 million for the first time, when his 2019 painting Waiting for a While sold for HK$8.8 million (US$1.1 million).
During the recent pandemic, Calleja created face masks and donated his artworks and designs to help produce his hometown’s Festival de Málaga and to support local hospitals.
Calleja has had several solo museum exhibitions and many solo gallery exhibitions in several international cities, including Hong Kong, Greece, Germany, Tokyo, Spain, Rome, London and the U.S.
Cristina Samper. Tap Into Your Inner Child Through Javier Calleja’s Unique Work. Art of Choice Magazine. October 21, 2020.
Reena Devi. Why Spanish artist Javier Calleja is a hit in Asia and beyond. CoBo Social. October 13, 2020.
Gabrielle Leung. Javier Calleja Crafts Special Face Masks to Support Festival de Málaga. Hypebeast. August 14, 2020.
Bill Brady Gallery. Sooner or Later: Javier Calleja @ Bill Brady, Miami, September 25, 2020.
Antonio Javier Lopez. Javier Calleja, sought-after by collectors. Sur in English/Lifestyle. June 15, 2018.