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Diego Sánchez Barceló makes Surrealist works for the meme-age

We speak to the digital artist about regurgitating trends and the future of beauty in an age of technology

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.

Scroll through Diego Sánchez Barceló’s Instagram and you will find yourself in a PC art dimension filled with abstract, anthropomorphic characters inhabiting a pastel desert landscape. Inspired by Oneiric Surrealism, Diego’s dreamy work combines elements of ancient civilisations – think megalithic structures and Moai-inspired sculptures – with futuristic, 3D textures. It’s Surrealism for the meme-age.

“I like to experiment with concepts of beauty and ugliness and play with the boundaries of funny and creepy,” Diego says. “My characters aren’t necessarily beautiful but they’re gentle in their ugliness.” Despite being largely devoid of human bodies, Diego’s work is nevertheless populated by living things. “I believe in the personality of inanimate objects,” he says, “so it allows me to put a face on almost anything.”

Originally from Mallorca, now based in London, Diego turned to digital art because it allowed him to realise his ideas faster. Fresh off collaborations with ephemeral jewellery brand Keefpalas, and The Digi Fairy, we speak to the artist about our tendency to assimilate and regurgitate trends, the future of beauty in an age of technology, and Ren and Stimpy.

Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I grew up in Mallorca, Spain. Mallorca has beautiful scenery so I had a pretty idyllic backdrop to my childhood with all that comes with the laid-back, island lifestyle. This was contrasted against a pretty strict education at a Catholic school. Life for me as a kid was running around with friends from Mallorca as well as having encounters with tourists and expats that had come to the island. I’m sure all these things shaped who I am today and why I find myself living in London.

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I remember first being conscious of other kids wearing cool trainers at school and then noticing I was wearing hideous nerdy school shoes and corduroys trousers that my mother forced me to wear. All I wanted to wear was tracksuits, Jordans and t-shirts that I now know were sort of metal inspired. When I started to become conscious of my appearance I started hiding shoes in boxes and burying them down the street so I could change on the way to school.

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I think I picked up pieces of my identity through a lot of different visual references like watching Japanese anime cartoons as a kid, 80s and early 90s surf brands, logos and campaigns that I was obsessed with as a teenager. I was big into graffiti, MTV music videos, record artwork and old album covers from all different times and genres.

Why are you an artist?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
It came from a need to make the things that are in my mind. Otherwise, the things I think about will go unmade. It’s always about something I want to communicate. It might not always make a lot of sense, but I always think it’s worth putting it out there. I’m not bothered if people don’t like it or understand it, I do it for my own self-expression. I work digitally because it’s a language that allows me to execute ideas quicker.

How did you actually get into it?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. My father is a really good painter, illustrator and sculptor, so I guess it came naturally as I was surrounded by it. I then went to art school which is where I started making graffiti. I was particularly interested in the late 90s/ early 2000s 3D styles so when later in life I discovered digital 3D tools it was quite exciting.

Tell us a bit about your creative process.
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
The initial idea might come from an object, a photograph or a landscape. Then I usually will draw it before building it up digitally. I somehow like the craft behind it, rather than downloading existing templates and adding layers and layers of jazzy effects. I’m not that good with computers, they’re just a language.

Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I like to experiment with concepts of beauty and ugliness. I also like to play with the boundaries of funny and creepy, but with an element of the visually pleasant at the same time. I guess my characters aren’t necessarily beautiful but they’re gentle in their ugliness.

How would you describe your aesthetic?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I really wouldn’t know how to describe it. It is constantly mutating. Onirism, Surrealism, dreamy, ASMR, mystery, mythology and ancient civilisations is all stuff I’d like my work to be related to. I’ve always liked to step out of what feels like a trend, although I also like my work to feel contemporary at a certain level.

At the end of the day we tend to assimilate trends and thoughts and regurgitate them in our own particular way. I think that’s a recurrent process in a world where pretty much everything has been already done.

What are you trying to convey with your art?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I’m looking for mysterious environments and characters to explore. Music and sound is an important dimension to a lot of my work. There's always an element of mystery, cynicism, humour and a twist on beauty. I’m interested in making work that has a timelessness aspect.

Your work is full of inanimate objects that have been given human faces, but is devoid of human bodies. Is this a conscious decision?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I’ve always felt fascinated by faces and their relation with identity (I’m not very good with names but I do remember faces very well). I am interested in the body as a whole but I end up representing faces more often, maybe because of the influences of Ren and Stimpy, megalithic faces and ancient civilisations sculptures.

I also believe in the personality of inanimate objects and so it allows me to put a face on almost anything.

What inspires you?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I am very inspired by the local materials found in the Mediterranean. Materials, buildings, colours and landscapes. Also archaeology, fine art, architecture and design, but overall the thing that consistently delivers inspiration is nature. I think nature is the biggest influence over beauty and identity and will always trump everything else. Also the work my dad does as a botanist, painter and sculptor and friends of mine that are all doing really cool things.

What is your dream project to work on?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
I’d love to be involved in music projects. To make visuals for musicians and their videos. I’d love to work with an architect and collaborate on a building or structure and also to create a huge face!

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
Technology and the internet have drastically broadened our span of consciousness on the concept of beauty. I think the capabilities technology gives us to play around with our identities will shape new ways and perceptions of beauty.

What is the future of Beauty?
Diego Sánchez Barceló:
Technology will allow anyone to augment their image whether physically or digitally to align with their particular vision of beauty for themselves. I think this will mean that beauty no longer becomes a genetic lottery or who has the means or will to change their appearance. I think it will become more desirable to have a sense of special and individual characteristics, talent or an attitude and that this will be the future and value in beauty.

I think beauty will have a tendency to become weirder and more individualised, and so whoever has a strong identity will have admirers that will be devoted to their idea of beauty. A bit in a political party manner. I doubt will beauty become standardised or homogenised by the internet.