In the last five years, the works of the Spanish artist Edgar Plans (Madrid, 1977) have been exhibited in South Korea, Russia and the United States, have been acquired by collectors around the world and, in some cases, subsequently auctioned for dizzying prices. six-figure amounts. A year ago, a collection of NFT works from his creations became a commercial phenomenon, generating the equivalent of $12 million, shortly before the collapse of cryptocurrencies. His animal heroes, hybrid creatures with kind eyes and critical consciousness, have been transformed into sculptures, dolls, videos, pieces of clothing and swarm like avatars throughout the incipient metaverse. And all this data collides with the image that anyone who crosses the threshold of the Plans workshop in a residential neighborhood of Gijón encounters.
In his stusio with high ceilings and white walls there is barely a laptop that, he says, his assistant uses to manage orders and administration. Here Plans dedicates himself, fundamentally, to painting. “Everyone is surprised that, despite the level I have reached in the international market, I can continue working alone, but that’s how it is,” he explains with a cup of coffee—another of his actions—in his hands. “I like to prepare the fabrics, put on the first layer and stretch them. It is a process that I like to do alone, without delegating. My assistant takes care of shipping and administration, allowing me to focus on painting. My paintings have clean features, but dirt surrounds them. “I like to get my hands, my clothes, the floor, the walls dirty.”
The work that Plans has conceived for the EL PAÍS stand in Arco, My Daily News, reflects that passion for painting. It is a monumental canvas measuring 280 centimeters high by 250 centimeters wide that allegorizes the workflows and information that lead to the creation of a news story as an altarpiece or platform video game, like a page from Rue del Percebe imagined by a son of the golden age of video game consoles. There are papers that fly, vending machines that distribute news instead of candy bars, freight trains with newspapers and, above all, characters that talk, write and run from one place to another. “I wanted to show that immediacy has a lot of work, travel, meetings, interviews and design behind it,” explains the artist. “I wanted to make a very crazy and dynamic writing, like the ones I saw in the Superman and Spider-man movies, and give importance to the people behind the news.”
At the core of this work is a small canvas that will also be part of Arco’s installation, and which shows one of its heroes sitting at a typewriter. It is a synthesis of classic journalism, but also a tribute to the artist’s father, Juan José Plans (1943-2014), writer, reporter and screenwriter, a legendary name on Radio Nacional de España, where he directed and wrote dozens of radio fictions, and also of genre literature: He wrote El juego de los niños, the disturbing horror story that gave rise to Quién puede matar a un niño? (1976), the cult film by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. “My father influenced me a lot, especially thematically and vocationally. He instilled in me a lot of perseverance, the need to work every day, and a passion for science fiction and adventure literature. And also a certain serenity, by showing me that you could live off of art or culture, without luxuries, but with what you needed to eat. Many people work on things they don’t want just to eat and, sometimes, they don’t even have enough money for it.”
Plans assures that this family atmosphere was decisive when trying his luck in art. “As a child I wanted to be an astronaut or a firefighter, like so many children, depending on the movie I had seen,” he remembers. “I really liked painting and drawing, but I didn’t see it as a career, but rather as a means of expression, just like hitting wood or playing with toys.” He was born in Madrid, but when he was seven years old the family moved to Gijón, his father’s homeland. It was in the Asturian city where he spent his childhood and adolescence, and where he came into contact with urban art, which at that time was simply called graffiti. “I really liked street art, graffiti, texts. A very New York line, from Basquiat and Keith Haring, with very direct language. I was more of a marker than a spray. He didn’t sign, he made puppets and certain texts. I had half a neighborhood labeled by me, but without a signature, just in case.”
It was then, while he was studying Art History and looking for a life as a sign maker or designer in a metal shelving company, when he began to try to make his way in art. “I went to Madrid to visit galleries with my dossier, but I couldn’t be successful. I drew when I could, I exhibited in cafes and in group exhibitions, and if I sold something, fine.” He was 20 years old when he sold his first work to a stranger. “I exhibited in the chapel of San Lorenzo, here in Gijón, and I sold a painting of a fisherman throwing his rod into the sea. Some gentlemen came, they liked it and they bought it. I was freaking out. “I came home and showed the money to my mother, I didn’t believe it.”
Almost two decades passed between that first sale and 2018 during which Plans did not stop painting. His work had never stopped being a long-distance career, but that year his gallerist at the time, Miquel Alzueta, decided to take several of his works to Kiaf, the international contemporary art fair in Seoul, in collaboration with another gallery, Pigment. . “It was like I was suddenly discovered,” says Plans. “Collectors began to be noticeably interested in my work. There came the boom, with incredible demand, first in Asia and then in the United States.”
The artistic environment in which Plans’ works emerged was dominated by a generation of artists unafraid to experiment with pop, color and a visual repertoire halfway between comics, cartoons and urban art. It was not a new sector, but it was especially buoyant. The Japanese Takashi Murakami had opened the market in the early 2000s with paintings inspired by manga and anime that were translated into sculptures, videos, installations and even toys and consumer objects, such as a kawaii Andy Warhol or a Jeff Koons from the digital age. In the following decade, the American KAWS upped the ante with its iconic characters with crosses instead of eyes capable of transforming into both museum works and very expensive limited edition toys.
In the same way and without intending it, Plans’s painting had been leaning towards a style also recognizable at first sight, communicative and unmistakable. Part of the blame lies with the protagonists of his paintings, which he has baptized as animal heroes. “In addition to being a painter, I am a frustrated architect, and at first my works were full of architecture, houses and parks,” he explains. Soon those settings were filled with characters halfway between children and animals who served to address critical issues without losing a certain candor. “They are characters with something childish, with very sweet, soft and kind features, like animals that fight against what humanity is destroying through values such as solidarity or hope. I defined them with increasingly affectionate eyes, with helmets and dog ears. Precisely that kindness allows me to talk about violence, pollution, selfishness or envy.”
The magnetism of his works lies, in large part, in that balance. His animal heroes are naïve creatures immersed in mysterious chaotic environments. In many of his paintings and drawings his features almost overflow the paper, dramatically illuminated, as in a thriller film or like those animal spirits that, in Studio Ghibli films, warn against the destruction of the planet or the triumph of selfishness. This is where they distance themselves from the uncritical optimism of pop illustration and demand a deeper reading. “I like that the paintings require attention, that they are works of reading, to spend time in front of them,” explains Plans. In theirs, the walls of their sets are also filled with graffiti, inscriptions and drawings that add so many levels of meaning.
On the wall of his studio, between finished paintings, tubes of paint and his own and other people’s works – among them, a portrait of the Asturian by his friend KAWS – there are fabrics and papers on which Plans himself has reproduced the stripes of a lined paper. Day by day, he draws on them drawings and inscriptions, isolated words, reminders, lists, improvised icons and even cooking recipes. They are his series of notes, which over time become finished works and testimonies of the creative process and daily life of this father passionate about basketball and cycling, whose days pass between this studio, where he paints, and another in the center of Gijón, where he draws.
Plans is a homely man, who has found in Gijón a refuge sheltered from an increasingly fast-paced and changing art scene. He currently works with the Villazan Gallery in Madrid, with whom he has exhibited in New York, Miami and Madrid, and with Perrotin, an entire art multinational whose nose has informed the careers of Murakami and KAWS throughout the world, and which has taken to Dubai. With the curator Pablo Villazán, he has done individual shows at the MoMA in Moscow, in 2021, and the Xiao Museum in China (since February 25). His collectors present, in his own words, “very disparate” traits, from classic profiles who have enthusiastically embraced his work to emerging entrepreneurs in Asia or the United States. During the pandemic he began collaborating with partners specialized in the production of limited edition sculptures or digital creations. “I love painting, but I had always wanted to see my characters in three dimensions,” he responds when we ask him about it. “A sculpture or a projection is a way to put them in reality. “I like living with them.”
His NFT works, which made headlines at the beginning of last year, have allowed him to reach new audiences, “young people in the world of technology, who conceive my characters as avatars in a digital world,” he alarms. Hence, he has created a company, Lil’ Heroes, which expands his universe to the audiovisual and entertainment world, while he concentrates on his paintings and drawings. It’s not just a matter of the market: its characters, which have made the leap to children’s books, also allow it to collaborate with charitable or educational initiatives. The same icons that reach astronomical figures in international auctions decorate primary classrooms in Asturian schools or serve to raise funds for the fight against childhood cancer. Accustomed to dealing with the ups and downs of the sector, Plans is resistant to clichés and labels. The only box he accepts is the one he has freely assumed: “Me, from Gijón and at home.”
Text by Carlos Primo.El País Newspaper.