Home Interior Design How Spanish artist Edgar Plans built a world full of lovable characters and tapped into an insatiable market for cuteness

How Spanish artist Edgar Plans built a world full of lovable characters and tapped into an insatiable market for cuteness

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The growing enthusiasm for “kawaii” art in Asia has made a handful of Western artists stars overnight. Among them is 45-year-old Spanish artist Edgar Plans who, despite hardly appearing at auction until September 2020, exploded to over $12 million in total sales in 2022.

kawaii, referring to the culture of kindness in Japan, is taken from “kawayushi” meaning shy, small and kind. And kawaii Artwork has taken a serious hit with Asian collectors, according to Odile Chen, head of international art at Ravenel, one of Asia’s leading auction houses. These buyers are “deeply influenced by Japanese anime culture, and Edgar Plans’ humorous and cute art style perfectly matches their preferences,” Chen said.

Many collectors have also been drawn to the whimsical, cartoonish aesthetic during the pandemic for a taste of nostalgic escape. Others enjoyed the genre as a vehicle to explore darker, more cynical themes. And many will have gravitated towards artists like Plans thanks to a still relatively affordable price compared to some of the best known proponents of the genre like the Japanese Yoshitomo Nara, whose KNIFE BEHIND THE BACK (2000) sparked a ten-minute bidding frenzy at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2019, eventually selling for $25 million.

“While Nara’s paintings have fetched millions of dollars in the global art market and are represented by the top notch gallery Pace, most collectors are looking for a replacement,” Chen said.

Edgar’s Plans, Careful, you may fall (2018). Image courtesy of Ravenel.

Many of the most famous artists working in this style come from Japan, including Mayuka Yamamoto, Moe Nakamura, Ayako Rokkaku and Tomo Nagai, or from elsewhere in Asia, such as Indonesian artist Roby Dwi Antono and b.wing, which is based in Hong Kong. However, collectors have also looked further, looking at various interpretations of the “kawaii” aesthetic. Plans is one of many popular ultra-contemporary Spanish artists whose work has been linked to the style, including Javier Calleja, Rafa Macarrón and Okokume.

Despite this broader market context for his work, Plans himself does not directly credit kawaii as a key influence, citing street art, Picasso and Basquiat to Artnet News. He identifies as self-taught and strongly opposes being pigeonholed, instead defining his work as ‘edgarism’.

Plans is best known for its “Animal Heroes” series, which takes viewers into a fantasy world inhabited by a collective of mouse-eared protagonists dressed in adorable costumes, with disproportionately huge heads and even bigger, glowing eyes. The heroes wear masks and capes, or disguise themselves as characters including a chef, pilot, painter or footballer. Almost always smiling or in a fixed state of childlike wonder, they have a charming air of wholesome benevolence.

According to Plans, the appeal of its characters also depends on their higher purpose. “Their powers are lost human values: solidarity, teamwork, caring for our planet, being aware,” he told Artnet News. “They are always optimistic about problems because together we can solve them…there is always hope.”

Its message clearly resonates with collectors as one of this series, Colors (2020), soared to CNY4,410,000 ($698,569) at Christie’s Shanghai last March, setting a new benchmark for the artist, who more than doubled his previous record set in Hong Kong in November 2021. Specialists of the auction house attribute the success to the painting being more powerful than some of Plans’ more ambiguous group scenes. Instead, it focuses on a single, wide-eyed hero on a plane of crudely scribbled doodles that blend into a blue sky dotted with flashes of inspiration.

The success of “Animal Heroes” today speaks to a growing global appetite for “world building”, a term popularized by the NFT boom that refers to the creation of not just concepts or characters, but entire cohesive worlds governed by their own guiding tradition. . Fittingly, Plans’ traditional art practice naturally translated into “Lil Heroes,” a PFP collection of 7,777 avatars that was discontinued in January 2022 and sold out immediately. The tokens were later auctioned off by Phillips Hong Kong, and the artist promises that a more developed metaverse is in the works.

Born in Madrid in 1977, Plans was strongly encouraged to pursue creative passions as a child, obsessively drawing characters from his favorite comic books in the same room where his father, the famous writer Juan José Plans, worked. “Even at school, teachers made me draw on the blackboard to illustrate the topics they covered and make them more fun for the class,” Plans said.

Until three years ago, Plans was virtually unknown outside small pockets of the Spanish-speaking art world. His stature began to grow around 2015, when he signed with Alzueta Gallery in Barcelona, ​​who told Artnet News she was drawn to a quality of his work that felt “naive in its raw feel” but ” mature in its technical complexity”. By 2019, his shows were starting to sell out.

An early supporter of Plans in Asia was Hong Kong-based curator Matt Chung. “When I saw [his work] I thought it was the kind of style that Asian audiences would react to because it’s cartoonish but it has an artistic touch,” he recalled. “I thought the characters had a very distinctive look that people would remember.” It wasn’t long before Chung acquired his own piece, and in August 2020 he will curate “Optical Heroes”, Plans’ first exhibition in the region at WAREHOUSE gallery, the subsidiary project of a specialist retail company. in the glasses.

Edgar’s Plans, Untitled 2019 will be included in the upcoming Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary auction with an estimate of HK$200,000-400,000 ($25,000-38,000). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Just a month later, Plans made its auction debut in China, and by December his work was showing up at major houses in the region. The year 2021 got off to a promising start in January when Poly Auction Hong Kong sold a painting for CNY 1,032,850 ($159,836). In May, Plans was included in Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s “Contemporary Showcase: Kawaii Pop” online sale, and Almine Rech staged the first of three shows featuring the artist in Shanghai.

Inspired by the meteoric success in Asia of artists like KAWS and bearbrickPlans has also developed a line of small toys made in conjunction with the Misha Made Project and an NBA-themed toy exhibit is currently showing at the K11 Art Mall in Hong Kong. There is a strong primary market for these items; selling for around HK$25,000 for a set of three, although these items have not tended to do well at auction.

According to Ravenel’s Chen, these marketing techniques are aimed primarily at more tech-savvy collectors who are aware of changing trends. The auction house specialist noted that more than half of Plans buyers were born after 1980, as evidenced by Sotheby’s finding that almost 40% were aged 39 or younger.

“When you create your own world and people like it and connect with it, it’s doubly satisfying,” Plans told Artnet News. “The support of collectors is something that reassures me.”

Shippers have also clearly spied an opportunity to profit, with the vast majority of jobs appearing on the secondary market being completed as recently as 2019 and 2020. Despite worrying economic headwinds, the Plans market has continued to swell in the telltale signs of market speculation. . In 2022, his work brought in $12 million from auctions, across 175 lots; which represents a 23% increase in the average price year over year.

However, there are signs that the foam is cooling. In January, three paintings from 2007 and 2009 that do not feature the sought-after “Animal Heroes” characters were offered online by Sotheby’s London, and although each made their low estimates, none sold for more than 50 $000. No major canvases with heavy estimates have yet been previewed for this year’s sales by the major auction houses.

What remains perhaps most urgent if Plans hopes to stabilize its market is institutional support. To that end, an exhibition planned by the Xiao Museum of Contemporary Art in the city of Rizhao, China, could be the artist’s next big breakthrough. As Plans weathers what appears to be a flurry of speculation, its true fans will be watching to see what else 2023 might hold.

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