Javier Calleja - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • "Sometimes, you are painting, and your mind, your emotions, are all in the painting. This is the moment when you can find something new. It’s an emotional moment." 
    — Javier Calleja 


    Summoning feelings of warmth and love, the mother and child image has recurringly been explored throughout the history of art as a symbolic motif of empowerment and maternal protection. Instantly recognisable as an exceptional work by Spanish artist Javier Calleja, You Me is a compelling interpretation of this universal theme. First unveiled in London at the Dorothy Circus Gallery during their 2019 exhibition titled Mother & Child, the endearing canvas depicts two wide-eyed, macrocephalic characters reaching out towards each other’s embrace.



    The present work exhibited at London, Dorothy Circus Gallery, Mother & Child, 13 April – 9 June 2019 


    Whilst the mother looks onwards, however, the boy’s eyes are cast aside, as if wondering of the adventurous possibilities beyond the cocoon of this maternal embrace. Inscribed across the taller figure’s top is the word ‘You’ and the small subject’s baby blue shirt the word ‘Me, providing a direct link to the work’s title and a hint at the child being a self-portrait of Calleja himself.


    The Importance of the Mother and Child Motif  

  • Mastering the Balance


    Lending to the universal appeal of kawaii, both characters don a nose and mouth so minutely sized to be barely functional. Starkly contrasting this, however, are their gleaming emerald green eyes which are so large and detailed in their articulation, they immediately stand out against the sandy wash behind. When questioned on his process behind mastering this balance, Calleja has explained, ‘I can paint very realistically, but also, I don't want to see myself doing realistic paintings in the future. Because maybe that is not painting anymore, something like a photograph, a representation. For example, Mark Rothko. His work is also in my paintings. Very flat paintings, not many elements. So I want to keep this moment that one part of the painting is well-rendered or finished, and other is very expressive or casual.’ i




    Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1954
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
    © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Famously coined as ‘windows to the soul’, eyes are a point of emotive access carrying the weight of genuine human experience. And yet, in You Me the eyes bulge from an otherwise cartoonish presentation that only works to add an uncanny sense of playful irony to the overall scene. Communicating on two registers, it is exactly within this tension between the real and fantastical that Calleja creates a moment of magic. 


    “I think there is something really important in their eyes, and it’s with only two drops, white colour, and the shadows. So you get the sensation of real.” 
    — Javier Calleja 


    Calleja’s works appear to situate themselves as a rebuttal against the rise of the anti-cute in popular culture, recognisable in the form of horror movies like Chucky where children and dolls become hosts of tormented spirits, or cartoons such as The Simpsons which reveal the dysfunction of the nuclear household. Basing his adorably mischievous characters off himself, Calleja instead spreads pleasantry and delight, traits that are especially valuable amidst our time of increasing chaos and uncertainty. 


    Adamantly rejecting the expectation to over-conceptualise and theorise his work, Calleja explains quite simply, ‘every character is like my son. At the end of my life, I might have thousands of children’.ii The viewer is reminded of one of the most basic drives behind the creation of art – posterity. As such, in their simplicity Calleja allows for the viewer to project their own interpretations onto his work, encouraging viewers to seek identification and solace within his protagonists’ pooling gazes. 


    An Optimistic Universe


    One of the first galleries to represent Calleja was Galerie Zink, whom were also amongst the first to represent renowned Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. In fact, with notable shared similarities in both concept and aesthetic, the work of Calleja often draws comparisons to that of his contemporary. However, whereas both artists explore the motif of childhood, Calleja distinguishes his work with a defiant sense of optimism.


    Nara paints his child protagonists as solitary within his visual world. Both tender and violent, and adorable and perverse – in their sneering, half-lidded eyes one encounters a curious depth of cynical emotion that juxtaposes their naive wonder. In contrast, Calleja appears to reverse this archetype of the complex child in his celebrated oeuvre, instead returning the infant to a place of greater comfort and familiarity. Planted in indeterminate spaces that are flat in bright colour, Calleja’s children are yet to be totally defiled by adult preoccupations. As exemplified by the present work, they still teeter on the edge of adolescence, evoking a playful humour and sense of optimism that resonates on a universal level.



    Javier Calleja in his studio


    “I think that my style is more connected with my real beginnings, my childhood, and the drawings I was making then. 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.” 
    — Javier Calleja  


    Collector’s Digest


    Testament to 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 on Sasha Bogojev, Javier Calleja: Finding That Magic Moment, Juxtapoz, 2019, online

    ii Javier Calleja, quoted on Avantarte, online

    • Provenance

      Dorothy Circus Gallery, Rome
      Private Collection, Hong Kong
      Private Collection, Asia
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Dorothy Circus Gallery, Mother & Child, 13 April – 9 June 2019

    • 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 of a Prominent Collector


You Me

signed and dated '2019 Javier Calleja' on the underside; further titled '"YOU ME"' on the overlap
acrylic on canvas
110 x 116.5 cm. (43 1/4 x 45 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,000,000 - 4,000,000 

Sold for HK$7,026,000

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