Roc Blackblock is a mural and graffiti artist from the city of Barcelona who has been working in the world of urban art for more than 20 years. The artist uses art and murals as a tool for vindication and turns walls into a reflection of different social movements and the problems as well as social injustices that mark our society. As a result, many of his works have become icons of different movements.
Recently, Roc Blackblock has intervened the Wallspot walls through two artworks in favor of freedom of expression and against the censorship and oppression that the Spanish state is exercising against its people. One of them, which showed the face of the emeritus king, was erased by the Council and provoked a collective outrage and made even more visible the problem of censorship.
Your artistic career is long, and you have participated in several projects with diverse nature, always with a vindictive background. Could you explain to us one that you remember with affection?
There are plenty of them. And all, in some way, end up generating some kind of link. But, on the one hand, to highlight one that I link to my origins: a mural that I performed in the occupied Casa Hamsa, a center where I actively participated, which claimed a philosophy that I still share. They are projects that, in some way, marked the beginning of my career. Later, following this line, I would highlight a mural that I made for the Unit Against Fascism and Racism (UCFR), in El Clot, for a campaign that was sabotaged, since it was in favor of closing a Nazi center, but this fact made it viral and it became a significant project.
I would also highlight the mural I made for the CSA Can Vies. Fortunately, there are projects in which what you do transcends and become an icon within a collective or community. In this case, when they demolished the center, they only thing that was left was my wall. Its eviction caused a week of riots and protests that led to its reoccupation.
The common denominator of your works is the character of social protest. And furthermore, we also find a poetic way in which you reflect it. An example is a piece you made for Wall Lab, which built a metaphor that reflected on the passage of time. How do you think the impact on the public of a work made from a more subtle and poetic character changes as opposed to a more explicit and direct image? - as could be the case of the viral work with the face of the emeritus king -.
I believe that each project uses one tone or another. In my case, I am more a lover of speaking positively than of representing the faces of dictators or people I hate. In the case of Pablo Hasél, however, I think it was precisely to join in and make his words my own and create a forceful message, to strengthen and put the censorship against him on the ropes.
Generally, I consider important to find ways to explain everything someway friendly to the eye or without being aggressive. As long as the message is not diluted, I think that doing it with an understandable aesthetic makes the message go further. If the message is radical, it will surely only draw attention to those who are already convinced or think that way.
You also show that living from art is possible, through effort and perseverance, but that it is also an area that does not recognize the dedication it entails. Do you think that if there was a social awareness of the importance of art, it would be easier for artists to dedicate themselves to it?
I think we have a long way to reach real and dignified professional art scene: From pedagogy to institutions, clients and the public and even the artists themselves to consolidate a scene with all strata: From practice as a hobby, as artists, that do small errands even to the people we try to devote to it full time. We still find the fact that our work is underrated, or that we are often not valued, or that, perhaps, if you haven’t achieved a certain relevance you can’t ask for certain rights and conditions, and we also find ourselves in self-exploitation, being forced, in order to conquer a minimum of economic stability
How do you perceive the urban art scene in Barcelona? From your perspective, how has it changed since 1999? - when you started doing it -.
Many things have changed, the scene is completely different. Before, when I started, it was already a long-running scene, but it was more marginal. By this I mean that it used to reach a very small audience, so the impact was only for the people who passed around it. The civic ordinance in Barcelone damaged it because it was a very powerful scene and a lot of things were happening internally, and it complicated its evolution tremendously. However, step by step, everything has calmed down, but even now, there is still a lack of commitment from the administrations to make this work and the professionals worthwhile. I also consider that we have experienced an increasing interest in graffiti and urban art.
In fact, more than the people we believe have a growing interest, and I think this city is very ungrateful because it puts all kinds of obstacles in our way. Painting here or developing a project is a bureaucratic odyssey, but when we get it, everyone fills their mouths, hangs medals and it seems like a very cosmopolitan city as if what the city itself isn’t letting out flourish would be one of its attributes. On the other hand, the implementation of social media has evidenced the impact of people who are interested and who support graffiti and urban art. This is of great value that has allowed us to connect and value work in real-time.
However, this also becomes a double-edged sword, because it also works by thinking more about likes and impact, and this is dangerous because it can turn graffiti into an action with very little content and think too much as a fast product consumer.
Following the events of censorship of your artwork, it has become clear, once again, the need to claim freedom of expression in this theoretically democratic country. Have you already done any work that questioned the Spanish state?
Honestly, I think my questioning goes a little further. Obviously, the framework we are criticizing is that of the Spanish state, but I think that in all the murals I make of a vindictive nature, I question power and institutions as such, capitalism, neoliberalism ... Beyond the Spanish state in particular.
I believe that borders must be changed. When I question the independence of Catalonia, for example, I imagine La Caixa stretching and governing as much or more than current politicians - I wish it was not like this. Therefore, my questioning is often a generic and global critique of the political or economic system.
Besides, muralism seems quite secondary in this country. On the other hand, when a media event occurs such as the viralisation of your work first erased by Barcelona City Council, makes evident the sensationalism that this event is surrounded by. Do you perceive this fact as something positive? Do you think it has helped raise awareness about these facts? Or do you think that after a while people will forget the importance of a message on a wall?
I think many aspects would need to be analyzed in depth around this fact. Obviously, in the first open call that we painted, our goal was to try to make noise from our field and draw the attention of the media. The fact that the city council covered up the work was the trigger for it to go viral and I think this, as long as it has been talked about, is positive. But I think we should also look at how the media work, and there's a part where I'm very critical. Firstly, the day my mural was erased, there were works as much or more interesting than mine. And the fact that my mural went viral somehow hindered the focus on the content and what was being expressed collectively.
In the second intervention, all the media gave a lot of prominence to the fact that I repaired the work, and this has a point of sensationalism because that open call was an exceptionally powerful and beautiful phenomenon. We were more than 50 artists painting in favor of the freedom of expression, with magnificent and powerful works and, unfortunately, the emphasis was mostly on my work. Many times, the media will seek personalism, to focus on the character and not the collective, and this has led to internal dilemmas in recent weeks, whether to attend or reject the opportunity to pick up the microphone and broadcast our message, take advantage of it or miss it. But hey, that's why, in most of the interventions I've done, I've wanted to emphasise the community spirit as well as the content and protests that are taking place from a collective and community sense.
And, related to the previous question, do you think that the media explosion of your work through social media has benefited you artistically?
This has many faces ... Obviously, when you are part of the mass media, the impact and the statistics soar in a totally unusual way. I have been growing exponentially according to the work I was doing, with a normal, organic process and now it has shot up completely.
It's a two-sided coin: It's clear that loads of people have noticed and discovered an artist who works with content that might interest them, and it's positive for me that I've reached an interested audience.
On the other hand, I have also been receiving threats, messages addressing me. It is the risk of exposing your political opinion publicly. It's nothing serious, but somehow there's a double downside. I've also seen a lot of people read these facts as if it were all a strategy for me to gain an audience - which is absurd. I've been painting this kind of mural with these messages for 20 years. Also, this strategy has made me known in a negative way, at a time when a media puts as the title of an article that ‘’I defend and claim that as far as possible I would not participate in a project of a company like BBVA or any banking institution that causes evictions’’ or to expose myself in favor of people who have been burning containers or confronting the police, will not help me, much less, to have more work.
So, we see that it is ‘’one of lime and another of sand’’.