When an access lifting platform appeared in Deià’s main street towards the end of the summer, I didn’t think anything of it.
But then I noticed a grid of yellow lines crisscrossing the ugly electrical substation next to our office which appeared as if by magic. Slowly, day by day, the face of an older lady began to emerge from the wall, which piqued my curiosity.
One day, after the mural was finished, I was parking my car in the village car park. I noticed that a tabby kitten had popped up on the rear wall of the substation. I Googled the signature next to the artwork– Joan Aguilo – and everything fell into place.
Joan Aguilo was born in Palma. His mother is from Sa Pobla, his father from Santa Margarita. Growing up, he spent his summers in Can Picafort, a seaside town on the Bay of Alcudia in the north-east of the island.
He trained as a fine artist in Barcelona and Mexico and studied illustration in Palma. After he finished studying fine arts, he began working in a studio and selling to galleries. He discovered street art when he moved to Berlin to be with his girlfriend.
By that time, Joan was ready for a change. “When I was painting in my studio, I would get tired and bored with being alone for so long,” he explains. “When I took a break, I had no-one to go for coffee or chat with. When I finished a painting, it would go to a gallery and be kept inside, away from the public.”
“I changed my whole style of painting,” he says. “I started painting outside in the street myself. Street art gave me what I needed. I could paint among people and communicate directly to them, often painting everyday, quotidian things.”
Inspired by legendary muralists such as Australian Fintan Magee and the Catalunyan Aryz, Joan began making his own street art. But he’s never lost his admiration for classical Spanish painters such as Goya or Velazquez.
Although he might have been living in funky Barcelona or gritty, grey Berlin, Joan Aguilo’s art has always remained Mallorcan at heart, especially when it came to his colour palette.
“When I was moving back to Palma and packing up my paintings, I was reminded that many of my paintings use browns, yellows and blues. I realised that these are the colours of Mallorca,” he says.
When he first moved back to Mallorca, Joan admits he struggled to get commissions. He began by painting murals and doing street art, which, at the time, didn’t exist in Mallorca. It was also illegal.
“I painted everywhere and contacted many people,” Joan says. “They all said ‘no’ until one person said ‘OK, let’s do it’. Since then, I’ve received many requests. And now people contact me. They’ll have seen one of my murals and they find me through my website.”
Because the people who get in touch are already familiar with Joan Aguilo’s work, he’s usually offered a wall to paint on without too many conditions. He usually suggests an image, this is adjusted if necessary, and he gets on with painting.
Most murals take between one and two weeks. Bigger walls take longer. One mural occupied 40 metres and 10 floors. This took three weeks. Joan uses an access lifting platform to scale the heights.
Joan’s themes are often influenced by the purpose of the building on which he’s painting a mural. If it’s a school, for example, the theme will be education. In other situations, the theme will be suggested by the location of the wall. This was the case in Deià.
“Luis, the mayor of Deià, invited me to paint in the village. When we started to speak about where and what to paint, he told me that there’s a place where older people like to sit that was given them as a donation by a lady. I liked the idea of older people sitting, watching life change as it goes by.
“My idea was to use the images of the grandmother and the child to suggest the cycle of life. Eventually, the child will become the grandmother. But the painting is also, like so much of my work, simply about showing a moment of intimacy in daily life.”
Again, like so much of Joan Aguilo’s work, the Deià mural features members of Joan’s family. The old lady is his great-grandmother and the baby his cousin when the cousin was a child.
This use of real Mallorcan people as inspiration nods to a kind of gentle activism in Joan’s work.
“It’s not particularly evident,” Joan says, but I do reference the traditional Mallorcan way of life – taking time to live slowly and enjoy things like playing with children or going to the beach. Sometimes people say this is just the old way of doing things, but I say the sea is still here, the rocks are here. You can live like this now. Don’t wait until you’re old.”
For me, it’s the little glimpses of Mallorcan life made large that make Joan’s work so appealing.
It turns the everyday into art, little glimpses of ordinary Mallorquin life. The two paintings in Deià bring a smile to my face every time I see them and remind me of the importance of family here and the close bonds that make life special.