(As the artist is Spanish and speaks little English, this interview has been translated to the best of our abilities, with the help of Susi and Elliot Thompson. We are very grateful for all their help.)
Francisco de Pajaro seems to have more time for trash than he does for artists. He speaks endearingly of this unique medium where he can paint “without filters, without censor”, while other artists represent the opposite, a kind of stiff self-importance. “The art world is where most human stupidity prevails,” he states bluntly, “where vanity and ego is seen … For me, an artist is nothing special, and making art isn’t either. It’s just another job like any other. Give me a guy who sweeps the street; he is just as important.” Through one swift statement, he cuts through all the bullshit and pretension that art is renowned for, reminding us that it’s “just another job.”
But it’s hardly been an easy job for Pajaro. He has been painting for 20 years, learning surrealist and expressionist techniques, while also working part-time for half of his week. He found that art galleries in Barcelona “were not interested in what [he] painted, and had no space or place to hang [his] pictures.” He says, “My artistic frustration mixed with the [Spanish] economic crisis pushed me into the street … I have found here my safety and my personality; my wild action.” Painting on trash offers Pajaro freedom to do what he wants to, yet this was not entirely possible at times. “Here in London and New York, police allows me to paint in the trash. In Barcelona, in everything that does not generate money for the system, they are not interested. Instead, they impose fines.”
So Francisco moved to London in 2002, taking the advice of a friend who “knew that the people of London had never seen anything like it” and that “it was only a matter of time” before he’d get noticed “out in the media and by word of mouth.” Just a year and a half ago he started to paint full time, continuing to electrify the grey streets with bright, colour drenched forms. His actions could be described as charitable (“Painting on the trash is my gift to everyone”), but Francisco is also enjoying success through this system, as people stop on the street and ask for commissions. He’s even managed to secure a joint exhibition with urban artists in New York for the coming winter.
“Painting on the trash is my gift to everyone”
This is understandable, given that it’s impossible not to notice one of his creations. He tells me that, “To paint on the street you need to be physically fit and very concentrated. To get a good installation in the trash I have to travel many miles through the streets.” He insists though, that the original start point for each piece is actually our own actions: “I usually do not touch the trash or manipulate it, it is the position as it’s placed by people that inspire me to create an installation.”
Francisco takes the model that the people of the street unknowingly set him and begins to imagine: “I go out without any thought of what I do. It’s all improvisation … I usually paint pictures I painted as a child in school. Everything is visceral.” Plastic bags holding on to a lamppost; abandoned sofas imprinted with flattened figures and Native American patterns; skips made into sharks: Francisco brings personality, youth and humour to the streets.
The artist is not afraid to make a statement. He signs many of the pieces, ‘Art is trash’, revealing the undertone of resentment he still holds against the art world. At the same time, he says, “Art is trash is a tragicomedy of Spanish culture and of human beings in general.”
We find ourselves reflected in Pajaro’s work, framed in a chaotic pile of rubbish: “crying, content, bitter” but also with “passion, tragedy, and humour.” It is “the life of human beings” in its most raw state. Pajaro maintains that, “In the garbage I paint, I speak, I communicate without expecting anything in return. I want each person to take it as he pleases,” it is “made solely for the sake of artistic creation.”
Through his growing popularity, Pajaro has proved his ability to humbly “create a surprise where [his] work is the star, not [Pajaro]” and to enliven the streets of London, where he “does not need permission to paint.” The ‘lone wolf’ of the modern art scene, he sweeps the streets for any sign of artistic potential: instead of clearing up the mess, he revels in its lack of order, its lack of restraint, and its initial lack of anything to do with art in its expected form.