Javier Calleja - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • “This is a very important work in my career because it’s a connection between my old works with new works. New characters and old characters.”   
    — Javier Calleja


    With its impressive multi-part installation of 30 unique components, Untitled is a particularly special work by Javier Calleja, one of the most prominent artists working today. Created in 2017, an important year in the artist’s career where he first debuted his wide-eye boy characters at AISHONANZUKA in Hong Kong—the artist’s first solo exhibition in Asia—the present work is a rare, seminal example of what has since become his signature motif. Each meticulously composed drawing shares a story of its own, pulling viewers into Calleja’s whimsical world of nostalgic innocence imbued with satirical flair. At the same time, as the largest work by the artist to come to auction, measuring over an epic 7 meters long in its entirety, the work can be endlessly explored for the countless points of dialogue that are evoked between each original part. 



    The artist in his studio in Málaga
    Photo Courtesy of the Calleja Studio


    An Innovative Approach


    Calleja was born in Málaga in 1971, a picturesque city on the Southern coast of Spain renowned for being the birthplace of fellow Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. He began drawing in his early childhood, citing 'Mazinger Z cartoons and Francisco Ibáñez Talavera's comics' as among his biggest influences, but it was not until he was 25 that he decided to pursue his artistic talents more seriously. In 2000, Calleja graduated from the University of Granada with a Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts, landing his first solo exhibition in Spain just 3 years later.



    Comic-strip by Francisco Ibáñez Talavera
    © Francisco Ibanez Talavera



    Whilst this artistic training would have fed into his development, as evidenced by Calleja’s masterful control over a remarkably wide range of techniques and media, his distinctive aesthetic is ‘more connected with [Calleja’s] real beginnings, [his] childhood, and the drawings [he] was making then.’ii As he explains, ‘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.’ ii


    Comprising of 30 individual drawings on paper that the artist worked on one-by-one over a course of 4 months, Untitled brings to mind the work of artists including Barry McGee, David Hockney, and Joan Mitchell, whom too, have experimented with polyptych formats. Unlike his contemporaries, however, whose multi-part works follow a strict compositional order, Calleja’s innovative piece is both elastic and modular, adapting to new spaces as it can be installed in endless ways. Harkening back to the formative influence of comic strips on Calleja’s art, layers of narrative potential are unlocked with each new combination of the present work’s frames, as the work’s overall story expands and diverts through the refreshed interactions that start to emerge.




     David Hockney, Tall Dutch Trees After Hobbema (Useful Knowledge),  2017
    © David Hockney



    Joan Mitchell, Bonjour Julie, 1971
    Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
    © Joan Mitchell Estate



    Calleja’s Magical World



    “I love Joan Miró, the artist. He’s from Catalunya, and I did specifically draw inspiration from Joan Miró [for this work]… You can see these big colours.”
    Javier Calleja 


    Untitled immediately grabs the attention of the viewer with its lively palette of red, blue, green, and yellow tones - a purposeful choice by the artist made in tribute to Catalunya-born artist Joan Miró, whose brilliant use of colour combined Fauvist vibrancy with Cubist geometric forms. Like Miró, Calleja’s confident treatment of colour helps to guide his spectators’ eyes to points of focus, such as to the little boy in Untitled who reaches up towards a floating cloud, stood atop a lime green hill.



    Joan Miró, Les Oiseaux (The Birds), 1956
    © 2021 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris



    Understood as a reflection of the artist himself, Calleja’s characters have become beloved icons across their world, instantly recognisable for their endearing portrayals that are simultaneously sophisticated in technique and casually candid. Calleja masters this balance through expression, tonality, and texture, most obvious in the contrast between his subjects’ watery, marble-like eyes and the more graphically simple elements that frame them. Evoking the delicate moment when a child stops crying and is about to break out into a smile once again, Calleja has revealed: ‘That is the moment I paint—when experiencing something bad and you just had a breakthrough. I think when a child is crying and then stops to cry—they’re a hero. Because he or she decided to overcome the pain.’ iii


    Contrasting the cute yet sinister subjects that populate the oeuvre of Japanese-artist Yoshitomo Nara, to whom Calleja is often compared, in the present work Calleja’s protagonists surround themselves with phrases of optimism and joy, such as ‘Sparkling Life’, ‘Enjoy Today’, ‘Best Place’, and ‘I Like You’. And whilst Calleja has expressed his art is open to interpretation, inviting the observer to ‘finish the work’ iii, there is an undeniable positivity that radiates from works such as Untitled, resonating with audiences on such a universal level only few have so successfully accomplished before.



    “I’m looking to communicate emotions. The feeling of love, magic, or pain, I want to show that second when you feel those emotions. [...] I like people to experience the sensation of experiencing the moment of magic. Being lost, confused, heart beating stronger, I love that effect.”  
    Javier Calleja


    Collector’s Digest


    Demonstrative of his position as a major figure within the world of contemporary art, Calleja has presented exhibitons in a wide number of institutions worldwide. Notable solo exhibitons of Calleja include at Almine Rech in Shanghai (21 May – 26 June 2021); Rafael Pérez Hernando Arte Contemporáneo in Madrid (25 February – 24 April 2021); Bill Brady in Miami (2020); AISHONANZUKA in Hong Kong (2019, 2017); Dio Horia in Athens (2019); and Galerie Zink in the German city of Waldkirchen (2019, 2018).


    Works by Calleja now form part of influential public collections including the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Burgos, Marset Collection, and Unicaja Collection, amongst others.




    Javier Calleja, quoted in Reena Devi, ‘Why Spanish artist Javier Calleja is a hit in Asia and beyond’, Cobo Social, 13 October 2020, online

    ii Javier Calleja, quoted in Cristina Samper, ‘Tap into your inner child through Javier Calleja’s unique work’, Art of Choice, 21 October 2020, online

    iii Javier Calleja, quoted in Sasha Bogojev, ‘Javier Calleja: Finding That Magic Moment’, Juxtapoz, 2019, online

    • Description


      Referring to labelled image, please see full dimensions below:
      (i) 90 x 80 cm. (35 3/8 x 31 1/2 in.)
      (ii) 70 x 100 cm. (27 1/2 x 39 3/8 in.)
      (iii) 50 x 50 cm. (19 5/8 x 19 5/8 in.)
      (iv) 80 x 70 cm. (31 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.)
      (v) 40 x 60 cm. (15 3/4 x 23 5/8 in.)
      (vi) 50 x 40 cm. (19 5/8 x 15 3/4 in.)
      (vii) 30 x 40 cm. (11 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.)
      (viii) 20 x 15 cm. (7 7/8 x 5 7/8 in.)
      (ix) 30 x 30. cm. (11 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
      (x) 40 x 30 cm. (15 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
      (xi) 15 x 20 cm. (5 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
      (xii) 10 x 15 cm. (3 7/8 x 5 7/8 in.)
      (xiii) 20 x 20 cm. (7 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
      (xiv) 20 x 15 cm. (7 7/8 x 5 7/8 in.)
      (xv) 15 x 20 cm. (5 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
      (xvi) 15 x 20 cm. (5 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
      (xvii) 80 x 80 cm. (31 1/2 x 31 1/2 in.)
      (xviii) 60 x 60 cm. (23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in.)
      (xix) 15 x 20 cm. (5 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
      (xx) 70 x 50 cm. (27 1/2 x 19 5/8 in.)
      (xxi) 41 x 30 cm. (16 1/8 x 11 3/4 in.)
      (xxii) 41 x 50 cm. (16 1/8 x 19 5/8 in.)
      (xxiii) 60 x 50 cm. (23 5/8 x 19 5/8 in.)
      (xxiv) 25 x 20 cm. (9 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
      (xxv) 15 x 20 cm. (5 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
      (xxvi) 30 x 30 cm. (11 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
      (xxvii) 20 x 25 cm. (7 7/8 x 9 7/8 in.)
      (xxviii) 10 x 15 cm. (3 7/8 x 5 7/8 in.)
      (xxix) 15 x 20 cm. (5 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
      (xxx) 15 x 20 cm. (5 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)

      The digitally altered image is for illustrative purposes only and should not be relied upon as an exact representation of the work once installed. Prospective buyers are encouraged to view the installed work in person at pre-auction viewings. Phillips and Poly will not be responsible for any differences between the digitally altered image and the appearance of the work once installed and this will not constitute grounds for cancelling a sale.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Javier Calleja

      Javier Calleja (b. 1971) is a contemporary Spanish artist living and working in
      Malaga, Spain. Calleja is most known for his figurative style of cartoonish, doe-eyed
      characters with exaggerated features. His style is influenced by the toys and comics
      from his 70s and 80s upbringing. Calleja’s characters are often accompanied by text
      that contrasts the innocent and adolescent looking facial expressions of the
      characters represented in the compositions. Calleja works in painting, sculpture,
      and works on paper.

      Calleja holds a BFA from Granada University in Spain. His works have been exhibited worldwide and he is currently represented by Almine Rech.

      View More Works

Property from a Private Collection


30 works: Untitled

(i) signed, numbered, inscribed and dated ‘2017 1/30 SPARKLIN LIF Javier Calleja’ on the reverse
(ii); (iv) signed, numbered and dated ‘2017 [no.]/30 Javier Calleja’ on the reverse
(iii) signed, numbered and dated ‘2017 3/30 Javier’ on the reverse
(v - x); (xii - xvii); (xix); (xxiv - xxv); (xxvii); (xxx) numbered and dated ‘2017 [no.]/30’ on the reverse
(xi); (xviii); (xx - xxiii); (xxvi); (xxviii - xxix) numbered and dated ‘[no.]/30 2017’ on the reverse
mixed media on paper and wall painting
dimensions variable, current installation approximately 185 x 730 cm. (72 7/8 x 287 3/8 in.)
For individual dimensions, please refer to Notes.

Executed in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$10,000,000 - 15,000,000 

Sold for HK$12,108,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021