Updated: Mar 24
“If your life means to paint, this will also be your curse, that’s how I see it.”
The colourful streets of Málaga, in Spain have their own charm, due to the abundance of street art, mainly murals or graffiti. We managed to have an inspiring discussion with one of the street artists, namely Jonathan Morillas (or Doger, as his artistic name is). We discovered his wonderful creations by coincidence, during one of our travels to beautiful Spain, and he agreed to let us know more about not only his art, but also about the current artistic environment of Málaga. His urban art explores a variety of motifs and themes, such as women figures, religious symbols, pop art, as well as fictitious characters, surprised in unconventional graffiti. During the interview, Doger managed to describe in a vivid way the beauty and the challenges of street art in one of the neighbourhoods of Málaga.
1. First of all, we would like to know a bit more about you as a person. Where did you grow up? Were you already interested in (street) art at a young age?
I grew up in Zaragoza, a city marked by social conflict, full of gangs and different groups, a mixture between traditions and modernity. As a kid I discovered in art a refuge to get away from the problems of everyday life, for example the separation of my parents and then I discovered that I really enjoy making art. In the streets of the city, a culture of graffiti and street art started emerging that drew my attention, maybe because as a kid, I was really a fan of cartoons and animated series. I was always attracted to the colourful street art, matching the rap culture in music brought from the U.S., made by people that I did not know back then. So this street art on the walls was matching my interest in cartoons, visual art that I was practising at school or home. It was a so-called Old School Art, a typical lifestyle that gathered several modern styles, for example the 3D graffiti, more colourful.
2. When was the moment that you realized you wanted to become an artist? How did you begin exactly? Which obstacles did you encounter?
I didn’t know I wanted to become an artist. I was just a kid with a passion that few people in Zaragoza could understand. Most of the adults did not like it because of the so-called TAGS and when they were spotting any kids spraying colours, they would immediately call the police and then we would get fines or they would take away the sprays from us. That is why we always had to pick places far away or hidden to practise our art, so only a few people could actually witness our art, that we were initially making for ourselves.
I remember that I always wanted to share my art with everyone, look after visible places so that people notice my art. Today, this idea still lives in me. After making a drawing, I was then transferring it to the wall. In time, I started making money out of this, it felt nice because I was enjoying my work while making people happy. I was having a business, but I realised that was not something I wanted to do. I was specializing in making different types of reproductions, while at home I was drawing what I actually liked. I have never intended to make my art commercial, but I did not know about the possibilities at that moment. Only nine years ago, when I first arrived in Málaga, I realized that I wanted to succeed in being an artist. Many years before I knew Lagunillas, I already had my mural representations in all Málaga, close to well-known neighbourhoods.
I found in Málaga a much more open place than Zaragoza. Where not everything is about how to make money from selling art, with a little cost as possible. In theory, there are many art galleries that support the artists, while they actually use the artists’ work for their own business and purposes or to get benefits from sales. While it should be the other way round, galleries should be grateful that artists want to expose their art there. There are many interests in the art world, too much speculation. There are also more honest galleries, here, in Málaga, but I usually like to work by myself and not have representatives.
3. Often you hear that people who create murals and graffiti, went to art schools etc. Is this also the case for you? Or have you learnt all the art skills by yourself?
Yes, I have been hearing this a lot. In my case, it was not like that. I just knew young artists from Zaragoza with many artistic resources that were drawing very well. Knowledge is power. I also knew a lot of frustrated artists that pursued studies and were brainwashed or that is what they said. They think they don’t do a good job, because one of their teachers told them so, once. And then they hide their talent or they dedicate themselves to something else. Especially women artists, I notice, tend to be very modest with their works and then when they show you the result, you are left speechless.
I consider myself a self-taught artist who, in an effort to learn, observes very well the technique of other street artists and then I practise alone. I wanted to take up the entrance exam for the school of Fine Arts, but I kept postponing. I am in favour of studying, but against following the same line of studying.
4. Now you are based in Málaga, a city with lots of street art. Especially in Lagunillas, where you created some amazing paintings. Lagunillas used to have a bad reputation, which is why the government decided to give this neighbourhood a different face, also through colourful murals created by talents like you. We are very curious to find out more about this!
The history of Lagunillas is so big, it is impossible to summarize it in only one interview. Lagunillas used to be a beautiful neighbourhood, years ago. Its streets were flooded with life and different shops. The financial crisis and the weather caused many business owners to see their businesses slowly closing down. Then, there remained only dust from abandoned buildings, closed businesses that gave way to moisture, mold, rats that live in the hollows of the walls and roofs falling down. Also, piles of garbage and furniture and appliances, together with drugs flowing, that is what happens in the neighbourhood, a darker side of it. Children playing in the streets, without being supervised by their parents, without much future ahead.
I see the same thing every day even in my own neighbourhood, that is the way life goes on around here, it is sometimes a surprise even for the locals. This is how I found Lagunillas, when I first arrived there. I also discovered a neighbourhood full of humble people with a big heart, kindness and sympathy. It all depends on the perspective. People just have to be here and experience it for themselves.
5. Sorry for asking, but do you also live in Lagunillas? If so, please tell us a bit about your life there.
I do not live in Lagunillas, but I feel more at home every time I visit it. The kind response of my neighbours regarding my art made me want to come back every time. I also made a lot of friends there. I did not limit myself only to painting, but also I managed to become a part of their lives. Lagunillas is a neighbourhood where people are ready to be very open to you, if you are as well.
6. When exactly did you start creating these murals in Lagunillas? And are there still opportunities today to create new art there or do you run out of walls?
I started painting by the end of 2015, I was coming every day for almost three years. I was painting one wall after another, sometimes on top of my own murals. After those three years, work has taken me to other places and I have had other personal projects in other neighbourhoods, but I always came back to greet people or visit a pub.
For some years now, there are no walls left to paint. Each artist is looking for his own spot. Right now, everything is quite stopped, but surely, if I start again, there will be more people to join. It is enough sometimes if someone starts something and then more people are encouraged to follow. If I could, if I had the consent of the neighbours and some money as well, I would take away everything and renew the whole street, including my own works. I would give colour to Lagunillas and a chance to shine again. Many of my friends in the neighbourhood want this too, but I don’t want to be the only one investing in the project, without anyone’s help. Although it is hard to tell, I started with only a few murals in the beginning and then I ended up painting half of the neighbourhood, almost without noticing.
7. Do you think the neighbourhood improved since the colourful murals appeared and the government helped in other ways? How can worn-down or shady neighbourhoods be brought into focus through street art? Is art a form of protest, in your opinion, to (re)conquer the urban space?
It is a fact that urban art helped to change the overall image of the neighbourhood. The good part is that urban art enriched people's daily lives, brought them joy and culture, opened their minds and gave them hope by believing that things were changing. I personally know people who told me that before the street art came into their streets, they didn’t dare so much to go out. The urban art managed to somehow clean the place and touch some of the people who used to sell drugs and make them move from the most striking streets. At least in appearance, because behind the murals the mice continue to inhabit the houses that wait to be demolished. On the other hand, it was good for the owners of small businesses, because people were attracted to go in the neighbourhoods, although the neighbourhood had its charm also before the murals, people seemed to appreciate seeing houses in decline or things like that. But now things have changed, compared to the past when tourism was invading the neighbourhood and it was a constant come-and-go. The neighbourhood lost its identity and they blamed urban art, because everyone wanted to come here and experience street art or live here.
8. Would you like to do a similar project as in Lagunillas in another area of Málaga?
I would like to, but it is very difficult. Lagunillas was a spontaneous project that had a good impact because of the good location. Right now there is a lack of organization and coordination, also financing. There was a project that started a long time ago, but we had to give it up, due to lack of people joining and because, in the end, the artists only saw it as a means to promote themselves and gain some money. Artists will sometimes do anything to get their art recognized and this is both bad and good, everyone has to make sacrifices sometimes. Other times they have offered us bigger projects, but it is always the same thing, artists do not want to join if there are people telling us what to do, what to paint and so on. We are looking for evolution in our works. I am personally always happy to spot every time I go to the train station a mural I painted in the Perchel neighbourhood, which still retains its beauty.
Of course, I lost murals I painted in the streets over time, but that is how it goes with street art. I also have a mural in the centre of Málaga which is one of the most photographed ones. It is located in a beautiful square, next to one of the best known restaurants in the city, it is the most viewed one from all that I have painted so far. Some people consider it as an icon of the city or a symbol. Unfortunately, the building is programmed to be demolished soon, which I understand, I do not expect that all the murals will be conserved, but being an artwork that so many people like, I thought they will move it and keep it somewhere else, so that people will still enjoy its colours. It means so much when my work manages to connect with thousands of people daily. The mural is known as La Flamenca de El Pimpi.
9. Do the people living in Lagunillas appreciate your art?
Yes, my art is highly valued in the neighborhood. The neighbors have shown it to me in many ways. I have been lucky to empathize with all of them. Instead, my works have been highly protected and valued by them. They have been very happy when my art has been in the news and they have kept a copy for me to see. I have been painting and they have visited me daily or they have always greeted me as I passed, or if I am the one who enters that street, I am stopped every two meters, to greet many neighbors. I love that. The humility of the residents of Lagunillas. All in all, in Lagunillas I have met some wonderful people and now I am expanding thanks to my work, I am discovering that the Málagueño are good people in general by nature.
10. You use a lot of female representations in your street art. Which of your own creations is most special to you? And why?
There are works of mine that I do not normally think of and then, one day, I pass by one of them in the street and then I spot it and I realize how much I like it. For example, a realistic artwork of a girl who lives in Lagunillas, located on a narrow street with some stairs. They all have something special for me.
Within the years, I have had many favourites at home or at my studio, but I also have a lot of artworks about women that surround the walls of my living room, that I like because of the richness of colour, the strength in their eyes or their sensuality. Right now I wouldn't say I have a favourite.
11. Can you tell us something about your working process? Is it very structured or are you more the type of person who prefers to just start without a clear plan?
Well, I am quite a methodical person. Sometimes it can be a fast process, I have an idea and then I start developing it, make a few sketches and then I put it on canvas or on the wall. But other times, most of the times, it is much more complicated. I have an idea, I draw it or I paint it on the canvas or on the wall or I leave it in sketch and then keep it in my mind before I finish developing it. Then I decide about the colours. Sometimes, it is hard to decide from the beginning.
There are situations when I just stay in front of the wall and improvise the colours and the shapes. I am spontaneous. I already have an idea beforehand, but then I always carry around many colours, all my artworks have a lot of colours. Even if they are shades of the same range, they help to enhance the details. There are so many possibilities and before graphic tablets existed, one had to think hard, imagine a lot of scenarios, trial and error. In the end people just see the result, but there is always a lot of work behind every artwork.
12. How would you describe the street art scene in Spain in general?
I am not familiar with all the Spanish artists, there are so many and so talented, it is crazy. There are urban street artists everywhere you go. The truth is that it is very difficult to find a style that stands out from the other people, a unique style. Many of the artists will tell you that they would prefer to work in other cities or countries, because their work is much better paid. Cities don’t like to sponsor artists. There are artists who paint true works of art for free and want to promote their art outside the country and, at the same time, represent their city or promote it. But it seems that politicians just want to take a picture with the artist and then they don’t care about his existence. If you are already famous, on the other hand, you will always have work to do, even if your art is not particularly great. Fame and artistic quality do not always go together. Of course, as an artist, I would like to see new talented people reaching the top. Sometimes, in order to have your work recognized, you must keep repeating the same style over and over again, with all its versions, until you become a slave of that style, but that is the formula. Find a style that you like and make many combinations. People will then recognize your work anywhere and that is very good, if you want to become known worldwide. On the other hand, I believe artists always sought artistic perfection, to show off in front of the public and then forgot the message of their art.
I am always looking for beauty and to surprise the public. People are always expecting something, they never know what you will offer them next time and that creates also pressure for the artist. I am familiar with the street art environment, there are moments when a new artist appears and revolutionizes the art world for a while and then the wheel keeps going. I admire many artists and follow their evolution, but I have observed that in other cities, like Melbourne, Amsterdam, Berlin, Mexico City they encourage some artists to grow and become famous, in only a few years. That is why I think that reaching that level as a Spanish artist has a lot of merit, not only because of their style, but also because they have had to work very hard to achieve that recognition, even occasionally, financing their trips or materials themselves.
13. Have you also created murals in other Spanish cities? Or do you have some particular (international) cities on your wish list to create art?
I like to paint outside Spain, I like to take advantage of my trips to paint. I do not have a car and I have not been in contact a lot with people interested in urban art, that is why I haven’t painted so much during my travels in Spain. When I was younger, I participated in some graffiti events in Logroño or I painted in Barcelona, but on limited occasions. I would of course like to paint in every Spanish city a piece of work, I even had an idea to invest money in filming a tour through all the cities, recording while painting, but it didn’t happen until now. I painted in Drammen, in Norway, four times on the wall and three on wood, for sale, in Cairo, Egypt, in 2008. It was really an adventure. Also in Germany, in Regensburg, I was invited by a well-known artist, a friend of mine for a documentary about his life that will be released this year in April.
I was also supposed to go in Mexico, Netherlands and Puerto Rico, but I did not go because of financial or personal issues. I have a pending project in Switzerland, we will see. I love to travel and I am sure I will have many projects in the future.
14. Is there a message you would like to convey with your artwork?
Nothing special, just a message of beauty and optimism. I am not looking particularly for a message in my artworks, I prefer to leave it open for interpretation. One day, a friend of mine told me that all artworks are a reflection of the personality of the artist, so I think she is right, in my art you will also discover many of my personality traits.
15. What drives you to do what you do? What is it that inspires you the most?
It has always been my lifestyle. In time, it became my daily existence, what I always wanted to do, my dream becoming true. It is hard sometimes because you have to be in the studio painting, instead of being able to travel, for example, since I love nature and sports. I know they say that in life, there is time for everything, but you actually have to plan and organize your time really well to be able to do everything that you like. It is not easy to combine everything, fortunately I am not yet so famous, like those artists that don’t have time for anything, apart from painting and creating. If your life means to paint, this will also be your curse, that’s how I see it. But of course, I really enjoy what I am doing. I can’t describe where this necessity comes from, it is just something that I have to do. But I also know this is something that I can abandon whenever I want to and dedicate myself to something else, although I don’t know if I will be able. The issue is what to do with all the artworks you are creating throughout your whole life. :)
16. Define your style in 3 words? (difficult question, we know haha)
Wow, I am surprised you find it difficult, maybe other artists experience difficulties with defining their style too...
I will say: contemporary, colourful and personal.
17. Are there people who are or were a big source of inspiration for you?
Of course, many artists of both genders. Some of them still surprise me. Thanks to social media, I always discover new, amazing ones. Unfortunately I am quite bad with names, but there are lots of them.
18. What would you like to achieve in the future? What are your dreams and what can we expect from Doger?
You can expect anything from me, even retiring from the art world hahaha. It is difficult to answer, we can only imagine what will happen in the future. In the past, I was dreaming I would become one of the greatest artists and that I was going to succeed and be recognized worldwide. Of course, this can always happen, but I no longer have this ambition. I can only say that I will continue to paint and deal with more important issues and decisions, but I am sure that my current works are marks of something greater that I will do in the future. I will never give up working, creating, projecting ideas and writing them down. Right now I have some projects pending about painting live during some fashion shows. I really hope it will be a success, I have some other ideas related to this, but I will not say for now because I don’t want someone else to copy my ideas. I also have an important job in a liquor company well-known in Andalucía, which will be successful this month. I am also taking care of a clothing brand that I will like to give a boost to, by working on my website. The brand is called Doger wear, you can find it easily on any social network. And of course, I have many murals in my mind that I want to create, they will really be a success!
Keep up with Doger's amazing works and plans on his social media profile!