Irene López León

Irene López León (L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, 1984), an artist we can recognise because of her style in which she paints imperfect landscapes to alter the perceptions of the environment, adapting to different surfaces.

She entered the world of art through painting and working during her beginnings as a bricklayer and painter in the construction of a hostel in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) during a backpacking trip. It was there where she made the decision to swap the reel for the paintbrush:

“While I was scraping walls and putting putty in the cracks, another girl was painting amazing murals, so instead of breaking my back, I decided to swap the reel for the stylised paintbrush and discover what I love most in the world. Since then, I’ve never stopped”.

Her work thrives on vivid and vibrant colours that aim to highlight the urban environment and the realist style composition reinforces the importance of giving value to the elements of nature that surround us. Irene_lopez_leon

Your work as a mural artist has eclectic and kawaii tones, with very saturated tones and the appropriation of many elements and characters from pop culture. To begin, could you explain us a little about how the universes of mass media dialogue with your mural interventions in the public space?

My main work is about colour and composition. I love working with the vibration of colour and shapes. It is the abstract part of my work and what all my paintings have in common. I have different styles of work depending on the environment they are in.

Normally my wall work has to do with the natural environment. They are compositions formed by natural elements in a figurative style in the middle of a landscape of shapes and colours. I usually work with this type of painting in public spaces as a tribute to nature, highlighting these small elements in large dimensions. I don’t intend to carry an activist message, far from it, but I think it is important to highlight the natural beauty and the importance it has for everyone. Besides, it is the biggest work of art there is.

The pop culture elements and characters you are talking about are the ones that make up my work on canvas (although I don’t rule out doing them on a wall in the future). They are a nod to the classics, such as baroque vases or paintings that your grandparents might have at home. The iconography is what replaces the floral arrangements. The intention is to “give it a twist” through icons and colour.

Recently, the philosopher Simon May has argued that we are facing the invasion of the cuckoo, an aesthetic pattern of adorable characters or objects that arouse empathy and tenderness because of their colours and huggable size. Do you think that the ‘cuqui’ is an aesthetic that defines our present? Do you consider that your style is part of this trend?

I don’t know if ‘cuqui’ defines our present, but what is clear is that it has been and is part of our growth and creative development. Our generation has grown up with these types of icons, be it animated films, television series, comics, commercial brands, etc. Therefore, for many people, it is an artistic reference point.

I’m not sure if my style complements this trend because the iconography I use is not mine but of other creators. That’s why I couldn’t attribute this label to myself.

The murals you produce combine almost classical formal compositions with round and soft shapes, saturated and bright colours. Even so, you exhibit them in very different formats. What challenges have you faced in making these types of large format designs?

Large format is a challenge in itself, basically because you have to make the same thing you draw on paper but in a much larger size than yourself, but in the end, we all use our own techniques for scaling sizes. My great challenge has been to have to paint at height by driving a crane myself, (I repeat): by driving myself. It is something I would never have imagined.


Apart from the pop elements, you use floral and animal motifs in various forms that you have incorporated, for example, into the large-format artistic mural located in the Plan del Bonaire neighborhood as part of the Terrassa Walls project. What effect were you seeking with a wild composition and vivid colors in an urban environment?

The intervention in Plan del Bonaire is mainly a composition of elements from the natural space, such as flowers and insects. It is again a tribute to nature, to its colors and forms. I really like being able to represent such small elements on such large scales. Generally, in my interventions, there is no space without color. I usually fill the entire surface, but in this case, I wanted to do my color work with the different floral arrangements, as they are the original pigmentation of the flowers.

Do you think that developing a more realistic style allows the public to empathize more with the mural and feel more engaged?
I think the realistic style is understood more quickly, but this does not always have to be the main objective of a mural intervention. If we stick to this, only “understandable” paintings would be made, and styles as interesting as abstract would be discarded. In my opinion, it is also about bringing contemporary art in all its forms closer to people and giving space to all kinds of styles; otherwise, it is limiting for both the artist and the public.

From a more global and gender perspective, do you identify as a female muralist artist? What challenges do you think women face in the male-dominated field of urban art? Do you believe there is still a glass ceiling and a difficulty in recognition for artists who do not conform to normative gender identities and sexual orientations?

I identify as a muralist artist. I feel that the word woman is added unnecessarily. It’s the same as if you asked me about my marital status. These are irrelevant things when it comes to executing a mural, so it should not be a factor to consider.

The thing is, it does matter. It’s a question that would not be asked of a male-gendered person… Do you consider yourself a male muralist artist? It doesn’t make sense, right? Every time something like this is mentioned, I feel like we are put into a different category, the category of “women,” as if it were the Paralympic Games. They are not called “Male Urban Art Festivals” that are only composed of men (which do exist). They are Urban Art Festivals. I often feel like I have to prove more.

I am aware of the good intentions and “efforts” (and it’s ugly that I say efforts) that many organizations, cultural entities, private companies, curators, galleries, etc., dedicated to the art world make to consider gender parity, but it’s not enough just to incorporate female artists into the “roster.” There also needs to be access to the “Big” projects with corresponding good remuneration. “At the very top,” there are still fewer.

Finally, do you want to share any current projects? What are your future horizons as an artist?

I’m coming from a period of a lot of travelling and many murals. Now it’s time for studio work. I have to make paintings for a couple of exhibitions, and I have some pending commissions.

Horizons… I would like to be able to say: “Mom, what do you want, I’ll buy it for you.”