Art & Soul: Ruben Sanchez

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You may not yet be aware of the burgeoning graffiti art scene in the Middle East, but we’re here to introduce you to one of Dubai’s most influential proponents, Ruben Sanchez.

Graffiti artist and skateboarder Ruben Sanchez was invited from Spain to Dubai as part of the Tashkeel Guest Artist Program. His eye-catching work has gained Sanchez a following, and now he brings his style to the streets of Dubai. In our interview with Sanchez, we learn about the difference between Western and Middle Eastern graffiti art, the shared values of graffiti and skateboarding, and how he’s working hard to develop public art in Dubai.

Can you give us a little background story please?
Skateboarding, graffiti, graphic design, street life, illustration, self-learning, Madrid, cubism, Barcelona, flamenco, colors – if you mix it all, that would be my background.

What kind of cultural message do skateboarding-related graphics contain?
Skateboarding graphics have always been a way to say that we are on the wrong side of society. In the 80s, these were shocking, colorful, and aggressive. They were an important part of the rebellion that is being a skater.
Nowadays, skateboarding is mainstream; big brands have seized the commercial opportunity and everybody wants a piece of the cake. The real skateboard brands are still true to the message and product some great graphics.

Do you yourself skateboard?
Yes, I inherited my brother’s skateboard when I was a kid and I’ve been skating ever since. As a teenager, I was marked by the whole movement around it, which includes the graphics, the clothing, and, above all, the lifestyle.

Is graffiti an act of rebellion? Many would argue that it’s both art and rebellion folded into one visual medium. Would you agree?
Graffiti is the advertising of the people. It has always been used to express our anger, our happiness, our love, our complaints, our name, our crew, or our art. If you are a graffiti writer or artist, you are using the art of calligraphy to express your name or your idea – most of the time illegally – to an audience that never asked to see it. It’s the same as big companies advertising on billboards. So yes, I guess it is the perfect mix of art and rebellion.

What brought you to Dubai from Spain?
The Tashkeel Guest Artist Program, which is basically a dream come true.

Congratulations on your Guest Artist position at Tashkeel. What has been the biggest reward of that job? And the biggest challenge?
Thank you. The biggest reward is to work all day doing what I love, and being completely supported by the Tashkeel crew, whom I love and respect, on my artistic projects. The biggest challenge is to work on the streets. I’d like to paint some big commissioned walls in the city but the authorities here seem to be reluctant to allow the colors out of the studio. I think that, once they see some of it on the streets, they’ll love it and realize that it will improve the look of the city.

How has living here influenced your art?
There’s a shocking contrast between Dubai and Spain. All these changes are affecting my art in one way or another – positively I think. For example, it affects the colors I use or the subjects I represent. Dubai rocks!

What are your thoughts on the difference between Middle Eastern graffiti art and Western graffiti art?
There’s a cool graffiti scene going on in the Middle East. It’s different from Western graffiti in the sense that most artists use Arabic calligraphy. It’s really interesting and it has a lot of possibilities. EL Seed is doing some amazing things with this kind of graffiti.

Do you feel like Dubai has been receptive to your art?
So far, the works I’ve done here have gotten good feedback, which is great for me if I am to work on other public art projects.

What’s on the horizon for you? Any interesting projects coming up?
For the moment, I’m developing new techniques and styles in the studio. I want to try out sculpture soon and see what happens. There are also some interesting possibilities relating to public art in Dubai. I’m hoping we can make these happen without getting held back by bureaucracy. Inshallah!

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