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El Pez - Barcelona Happy Style - 22 years smiling with friends

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

Jose Sabaté or EL PEZ, is a Spanish artist and the father of Barcelona happy style movement. This important figure in the street art underworld was born in 1976 in the vibrant city of Barcelona. His career began in 1999 when he started graffiti painting in the outskirts of his hometown. Pez's alter ego is an always smiling fish, which says a lot about his positive character and a lust to spread happiness everywhere.


Pez is known mainly for the signature character of the fish, but it all started slowly with tagging. He used to live in a name, but that wasn't enough for his energetic persona. Once he decided to paint the smiling fish next to his letters, a legendary tool to make people smile was created: Pez got out of the letter. He found out that the most important thing is to leave ego behind and create a unique piece. From then on, he could convey this message full of joy to all the people in the whole world.

It all began as a game, but soon it became a way of life. As he got fired from his system technician job and got injured, these misfortunes opened a door to freedom for him as a Barcelona street art pioneer. Unemployment benefits and compensation from the insurance agency allowed him to transmit good vibes on the street to a greater extent. Passers-by in Barcelona were in the middle of El Pez's mind all the time. The smile had become his flag and his flag had become a reason to smile. Within a few years, his happy fish appeared in a lot of metropoles of Europe. Universal message with a heavy load of happiness was out.

We kwow El Pez because he has done a lot for SAMA collection, which is spread outside owr headquarters in Niew West Amsterdam neighbourhood.

Together with another fifty artists from every corner of the world, El Pez is also very well-known for exhibiting his artworks at the StolenSpace Gallery. It is a completely different artspace far away from traditional galleries, which have not yet included the Street or Urban Art movement among its exhibits.

In this friendly and comprehensive East London “oasis of freedom”, which is located in Shoreditch at the end of Brick Lane, the only rule to be followed in the year of its foundation (2006) was “take an abandoned place and do it yourself”. In the StolenSpace Gallery all underground artworks - from graffiti to street art itself - can enjoy their technical and subcultural diversity. Indeed, those urban artists share the same adversity for rules and limits, but they obviously differ from each other in the socio-geographic environment they come from.

It is important to emphasize José Sabaté’s close relationship with the other main pioneers of the Urban Art such as Banksy, Obey and D*face. The sudden and widely spread advent of Graffiti Art was in the 80s located in two different geographical contexts - Pop Art in the United States together with a completely different style in Europe - which managed to intersect each other only on sporadic occasions through the transcontinental displacements of Urban Artists. It was only after the great London event of 2008 organized by Banksy that a real worldwide connection between EU and USA Graffiti and Street Art occurred: it was called Cans Festival in the Leake Street tunnel to which about 40 friends were invited, acquiring a certain relevance at an international level. Even though Street Art artists don't own a real Manifesto, Banksy's film of 2010 which is called “Exit Through The Gift Shop”- where El Pez appeared in person- was the main means of giving authority to the movement itself and to the artists who were part of it.

Once the historical context has been explained, it is not surprising that El Pez decided to celebrate in 2019 his ’20 Years Smiling with Friends’ inside that unusual gallery, which included work by the English D*face, Ben Eine and The London Police, the Colombians Mussa, Dania Ortega and StinkFish, the Brazilian Cranio, the Belgian Jauneart, the German FlyingFortress, the Norwegian Martin Whatson and finally the French Seth Globalpainter.

Two years later, on the 5th/6th of August 2021, in the same space free of constraints, the Catalan artist is going to present and give a hearty welcome to his ’22 Years Smiling with Friends’, which will comprise again the work of his great friends with whom he shares an intellectual partnership - D*face, Buff Monster, Okuda, Flying Fortress, Cranio, Jauneart, Martin Whatson, PichiAvo, Chanoir, Chicadania, Annahita Hessami, Fark, Fanakapan, Mr Cenz, Mau Mau, Mighty Mo, Otto Schade, Ponk, Eject, Ronzo, Cheeba, Jaykaes, Discreet, Malarky and BRK182. What El Pez wants to convey, including the works of art of the friends with whom he grew up artistically and personally on the streets, is that he would be nothing without this group, as they can only make their voices heard when they are together.

It all started 22 years ago, but the question is: what will it be in 20 years from now? In 2041 Pez will be 65 years old. It is questionable if Street Art will be the same as it is nowadays or if it will be any Street Art in the future. Taking into account that the Catalan artist started on the street more than 20 years ago and considering the existence for example of the StolenSpace Gallery, will Urban Art be found in galleries and museums? As the original objective of underground art was activism, will it be washed away by gigantic commercial media budgets and mainstream mass tourism? What will be left out on the streets in 20 years? And finally, will aggressive gentrification hit the hidden parts of the cities where all these artists started their activity?

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kalb gwen
kalb gwen
Aug 09, 2021

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