Buenos Aires street artist Nicolás Romero Escalada is unique. His art brings together influences from mecha anime to popular snacks and Pokémon in a melange of mixed references to popular culture and nostalgia.
His works are composed like murals, giant still life works filled with irreverent references that speak of both local and global identities. Symbols of Argentina, like the sky blue and white labelled Quilmes beer sit next to a decorative yerba maté gourd, all the while ensconced in the body of a Transformer with Lucky Strike cigarette packets for shoulders - the emblems of Americana.
Doused with satire and irony, Escalada’s pieces juxtapose the high with the low-brow, the accessible, recognisable and ‘good’ symbols of capitalist society, with those that are often interpreted as representative of greed. Growing up during Argentina’s post-dictatorship years, he sought out street art as a symbol of free expression, a visual resistance to state-sponsored oppression.
The approach taken by Escalada is that of a social anthropologist, collecting and curating symbolic detritus, arranged in such a way as to represent the multitude of complex- and often contradictory - relationships that play out in contemporary Argentinian life. His murals are all-encompassing, including political posters and imagery, religious iconography and general vessels of everyday consumption.
Bridging the contemporary and the classic, there’s strong elements of digital-inspired art throughout his pieces, particularly the symbolism and colour palette of post-Internet and vapourwave art. Captured like a collage, a scrapbook of things that one might see in day-to-day life, both on and offline, the Argentinian’s art offers outsiders an insight into Argentinian life. There are things we might not recognise, particularly with region-specific brands, and things that we most certainly will.
Globalisation and its homogenising effects on the way we construct meaning in our daily lives has simultaneously brought the world together and torn it apart. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is exclusive. Everything belongs to everybody. That’s why, more than what is in Escalada’s paintings, it’s important to engage with how they’re shown.
Appearing in the way that they do, the items are cogs in a machine, small and - on their own - insignificant parts of a very significant image. The art, therefore, recontextualizes the readily available and accessible as completely personal. If each of his audience were to compile their own image with items, each and every one would look different. That’s because, like his art, our lives are all lived completely differently, even within the same framework.
Depicting agency in this way, the freedom to experience the world and curate it as he pleases, runs true to the very reason that the artist first began to make art - to create without boundaries and stand for something in amongst nothing. As the detritus of daily life becomes significant elements of a greater work, Escalada’s paintings highlight that everything matters. All of our choices say something about us.
If you were to compile your daily experiences, how would it look? Would your patterns of consumption accurately reflect the person you want to be?
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