Jorge is a truly impassioned individual. With a keen fondness for Mother Nature, a precise eye for beauty, and a striking ability to recreate local landscapes with wistfulness and his own flair, the La Linea raised artist has successfully injected his own painting style into the local art scene. Jorge Caballero, a familiar face around the Rock, is known by many, under one capacity or another, be it as a founding member of the Sunny Walkers Society (locally based hiking group), or in relation to his art, or professional work in marketing. He has completed a series of forty paintings depicting the Campo de Gibraltar using his distinctively detailed technique. ‘Nature is what we all have in common and finding these things makes us closer. My main style is surrealistic but that can be interpreted in many different ways sometimes. If I wanted to do something related to this area, incorporating my style and nature, I would have to make it slightly impressionist. Often my art doesn’t fit in with reality, for example, if I see a place, I’ll never take a photo, just keep it in my memory and from there, I build the painting. It is a search for the perfect mix between Van Gogh and Dalí.’ There are times when Jorge likes to add a tint of other traditional impressionist and Post-impressionist, like Monet or Cezanne. ‘Antoni Gaudí is another one of my really prominent favourites,’ he grins, clearly at ease discussing the topic.
Painting the Campo
The surrealist movement, championed by Spanish trailblazer Dalí, drew ideas and themes from both the unconscious state, and the state between wakefulness and sleep, allowing the artists to embrace chance and ‘forgo consciousnesses’. ‘Dalí made it sexual and extreme, a bit on the dark side. I tend to do it the opposite way, lighter, more positive and more naïve. He’s more classical in his brush strokes. My aim for any painting is to make you feel good and induce other feelings, like impressionism. At the same time, there has to be some magic in them or a twist of reality.’
Jorge first dabbled in art as a child, his father’s hobby was painting and drawing with a distinct classical style. He grew up on the Spanish side of the frontier in a La Linea much different from the one we know today. ‘It’s changed completely. Back in the late 80s, 90s, there was a lot of trouble here, drugs were very accessible. If you got in with the wrong crowd, you were in trouble but with the right company, it was a fantastic place. The purpose of what I’m doing with this series is to create a new artistic image for the area.’ His dreamy pieces portray reflections of some of the most well-known areas in the Campo, particularly those that live in it, and some obscure corners that capture a unique view of the Rock. Some of his most notable works depict Alcaidesa and Santa Margarita beaches, the top of the Rock, the Paseo Maritimo in La Linea, Jimena, Casemates Square, Catalan Bay and the Higuerón. Having marketed his work online, this series stirred a buzz amongst Gibraltar based art lovers. MH Bland expressed interest in Jorge’s concept and through their collaboration, the works will soon be featured on local merchandise, from postcards, to magnets and posters. ‘They will first be sold at the top of the Rock. All the products are ready; I’m just waiting for my trade license. The first step is to create the merchandise and see what sells.’
Receiving lots of on-going commissions, fans of Jorge’s work have described it as magic. Despite being so dreamy, his pieces express a lot of detail, the brush strokes are delicate and the colours are calming. The landscapes are familiar and unlike most figures in surrealist art, the comma headed individuals that feature sporadically in Jorge’s paintings are actually quite inviting. You almost want to climb down on to the beach and sit with them, watching the Rock idly in the distance. ‘There’s positivity!’ Jorge exclaims. ‘a painting usually takes me around eighty hours. I think inspiration, in a way, is just motivation.’ He reveals that his work is rich in artistic license, but still somehow remains true to the original scene. Perhaps it’s because he knows the Campo so well, or perhaps it’s because of the delight and whimsy spectators feel when they’re looking into a painting that is similar to the feeling of actually being in those places. ‘This is the cool thing about art,’ he grins knowingly, ‘you don’t have to stay in reality, for that you have photography. I started this style in around the year 2000, it came from an experiment in abstract. I was then very much into impressionism.’
At the time he was asked to produce an image of a golf course, and through a course of experimentation ended up with a ‘Dalílian golf course.’ From there stemmed a series of peculiar, surrealist golf courses. ‘From golf, imagine!’ Jorge exclaims. ‘I started to realize that I was looking more like a Dalí wannabe, so I moved away from classic surrealism and looked more to Van Gogh.’ I probe him on how an artist discovers their own style, ‘many of the artists I know tend to stay within the same concept. I found my style because I really didn’t care, I had no burdens, perhaps because I didn’t go to school for art.’ His father taught him to build skill through practice and variation. He was a keen drawer, a trait that Jorge did not implement into his art. ‘My paintings are always a process; it’s not about having a sketch that you follow all the way through. I never draw my pieces. What I do is start with base paint, the colour usually tends to be very dark and from there, I make my drawing.’ Jorge expresses his use of geometry in his art to create balance and perspective. ‘Things connect with each other, so there is proportion. There are always three points in the painting that are connected. After the dark base, I use medium colours, then lighter colours and highlights. It’s a four step process.’
Much of Jorge’s desire to paint comes from listening to music, and what he paints often depends on what he’s listening to. ‘Without music I would be no artist. How I paint really depends on what is playing. For example, if I’m listening to classical music, I might tend to go softer but if I’m listening to Metallica, I’ll go for something stronger. I think when you paint with music, what you end up with is a recorded mural.’ He works mostly with acrylics now, although oils have been his paint of choice. Oils, he tells me, take much longer to dry and therefore can help you blend colours. ‘Colours get mixed if you go over them when they’re still fresh. If you wait a day, you’ll get forty percent of the original colour. If you wait three days, ten percent might still show through and help create a gradient effect.’
Having spent many years living in the US, his understanding and depth of style has evolved over time to incorporate so many different elements. His first ever painting sold was to a friend in America. Aside from painting, Jorge’s background follows a lengthy and successful career in 3D digital art and production, with his portfolio spanning television advertisements, and film work. ‘It’s another tool to put together the ideas that are in your head. It’s more fulfilling to paint. I love computer work but it loses some of the romance, your fingers aren’t full of paint and you’re not working with your brush.’ His digital art follows more of a classic Dalí theme using many different techniques, including real footage. ‘There can be a mix of so many different layers, imagine a Photoshop file that could easily have two hundred layers.’
Commissions come in hard and fast, with requests for the coastline of Almeria and Ronda. ‘Sixty to seventy percent of my commissions are for English people or Gibraltarians,’ Jorge explains. He is in the process of setting up his online store and also, currently on his plate is a community project he initiated in late May: a huge mural on the wall of an old theatre in La Linea’s iconic Princesa Sofia park, bringing together many friends and neighbours on both sides of frontier, with the hope of fusing different artistic styles and visions. ‘I grew up in the park when it was beautiful,’ Jorge explains, ‘I think it needs help. This is me paying back to the community. I’m trying to bring attention to the whole area. I want to bring in Gibraltarians who could also make use of the park and attract people from La Linea to come and help. It will be a symbol of friendship and cooperation between both communities.’ The project is his way of hopefully drawing in commercial investment to the park. It will encapsulate the geological closeness of Gibraltar and La Linea through symbolism, and give Jorge an opportunity to paint something he loves, on something he loves.
During his 16 years of living in the US, he worked on approximately sixteen big scale projects, his most memorable being a privately commissioned mural transforming a South Carolina restaurant into a scene from Gone with the Wind. ‘I did one for the medieval times dinner show and others that were music related, I always had help.’ His vision for the park mural has harboured a desire to create more art for the area, but in the form of modern, abstract sculpture; an artistic avenue he hasn’t much explored.
‘The next park project will be a four to five meter sculpture in a mixture of my style and Miró,’ a Spanish painter, sculptor and ceramicist from Barcelona. His surrealist work has been described as ‘a sandbox for the subconscious mind, a re-creation of the childlike, and a manifestation of Spanish pride’, all themes that Jorge can very much relate to. ‘In one of them, I want to depict my painted trees in the wind.’ The pieces would reflect images and themes touched on in the mural. He really hopes to further extend his community mural concept to the Rock, bringing together more groups of local artists and visionaries from both Gibraltar and La Linea.
You can follow Jorge’s artistic journey via his Facebook page J. Caballero Art.
words | Nicole Macedo