Tasting the new tapas

Updated: 2011-09-09 14:28

By Mark Graham (China Daily European Weekly)

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Tasting the new tapas

Every year Arrieta and his wife Vivian Cao Hai Yu visit Europe where he stages exhibitions and works on commissions.

The Spanish visitor found the buzzing capital city a radical contrast to sleepy northwestern Spain and vowed to try and return as soon as possible.

Recalls Arrieta: "I discovered this crazy movement with lots of galleries and so many people in the arts scene. For me it was very exciting, people were all working together and helping each other and socializing.

I decided I would save the money to come back and I did, in 2005. Soon after I arrived here then my father called to say I had won a prize in Spain that was worth 15,000 euros, so I decided to stay in Beijing.

"The first thing my father told me when I went to China was: 'don't live like a foreigner, if you live like a foreigner, your life in China will be very short'. "

His studio is in the suburban International Art Garden complex in Chaoyang, a Beijing venue where he throws monthly art-themed parties, and hosts visiting artists.

In fact, Arrieta has become something of a cultural ambassador for his home region, organizing Basque government-funded exchange programs that bring in Spanish artists to China, with Chinese artists heading in the other direction.

Arrieta himself still spends the winter months in Spain with his Chinese wife, Vivian Cao Hai Yu, swapping the bitter cold of Beijing for the milder climate of southern Europe.

On his forthcoming visit, Arrieta will be putting on a show in his Basque hometown of San Sebastian, completing a huge wall painting, travelling south, to Seville, for the opening of a solo show of his work, and heading to the island of Mallorca for an exhibition

The artist's busy schedule also recently included a visit to the Finnish capital of Helsinki for a show and completing work on an installation piece for a nightclub in his adopted home city of Beijing.

The venue in question, Lan Club, is already known for its oddball fixtures and fittings, many of them chosen by avante-garde French designer Philippe Stark, who was given the brief of making it outstandingly different.

But Arrieta can outdo anyone for wackiness, as he demonstrated by installing 500 plastic "art" toys in the new Deco White Bar, designed, he says, to be like a musical composition. "I am interested in using art toys, because these elements are very close to life, and people," he says.

"They are elements, or objects, we enjoy every day, every moment, and also give us nostalgic feelings for our childhood. It is an amazing bar and I think my installation will interact well with the furniture and decoration."

It seems, with his trips back to Europe, sales all over the world, and home in China that Arrieta is truly an artist of modern times, comfortable in many different cultures. But for him, contemporary China is the place to be right now.

He adds: "I love my friends and family in Spain but there is more pressure there than in China where I feel more free," he says.

"And, anyway, home will always be there. I am here because I want to become Asian, I know it is impossible but that is my goal!

"My work has always been influenced by Asian culture, I grew up watching Japanese manga cartoons on Spanish and French television, even though at that time I didn't know where they came from "

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