Urban artist, graffiti artist or writer. Rocker. Madrileño from the popular neighborhood of Campamento. Teenager and young man in full Madrid Movida. Pier, that is, Juan Carlos Argüello (1965-1995), left his signature throughout Madrid in the eighties and early nineties. It only took 10 years and a few city walls to become part of the history of what is now known as urban art, which at that time was a fledgling and promising movement led by kids with markers and sprays. At the age of 29 he died of cancer. Barely a part of his legacy is preserved, which, however, remains in the memory of those who tried to add color, avant-garde and rebellion to a Spain that was awakening from the black and white of the dictatorship. Part of his memory now revives in the auction of his work that the Durán house celebrates this Wednesday. In 2014 there was an auction of pieces by artists such as Suso33, but in this case the entry of a graffiti artist into a traditional sales house becomes a unique event.

PHOTO GALLERY: The artistic legacy of Muelle

Dock started with a marker. He painted the name of his music group, Emergency Exit, of which he was a drummer. He then followed up with his signature, the nickname they had given him in the neighborhood after he tuned his bike with a giant shock absorber spring. He practiced at home, sketch after sketch. His parents were not very happy that their eldest son dedicated himself to art, recalls his brother Fernando, who guards his legacy. From the room he went to the walls of Camp. And when the neighborhood became too small for him, he continued through the rest of the city. He tested and improved his pulse because sprays were much more rudimentary then than they are now. “He did not study anything related to art nor did he look at anyone,” explains his brother.

'Muelle, a un metro de ti' (1986), one of the works to be auctioned in Durán.
‘Muelle, a un metro de ti’ (1986), one of the works to be auctioned in Durán.

It was the early eighties. Muelle and other young people, such as Rafita, Fer, Tifón (signature of actor Daniel Guzmán) or Bleck the Rat, began a path that made them “pioneers of the writing or getting up of firms in Spain. Nothing of urban art as it was understood at the beginning of 2000 or at the moment ”, says Fernando Figueroa, doctor in History of the Art and one of the defenders of which the work of Muelle is protected like good of cultural interest.

Daniel Guzmán had been painting for two when, at the age of 16, he met Muelle in person: “When there was a new piece of his, word spread and there he would see it and admire it.” The actor and filmmaker went to his house to have him made a t-shirt, like so many others who waited on his website for him to come out and sign something for them. “It was a mystery, nobody or very few people had seen him paint. He was the benchmark, the forerunner of everything, ”Guzmán explains about an artist who showed his face on very few occasions.

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The streets were his marketing, said Pier. “The true value of his work lay in the projection of his signatures and pieces on the territory, considered in terms of graffiti, not in terms of painting or contemporary design,” explains Figueroa. “Many times it is not a question of quantity, but of placing them well, that they look where the largest possible number of people see them,” said the artist. He painted in abandoned places, billboards, works … He did not need to mark trains or private property to become a symbol. He had an ethic that served as a manual for other young people. “Because if. It is a way of communicating, of saying. It’s my philosophy ”, he said. Guzmán highlights that philosophy in “its design, its line, the thicknesses and volumes, the finish, the chosen place, the quantity of works. It was all a liturgy and an event ”that began when they saw him pass by with his vespino and his suitcase full of sprays. The filmmaker remembers the documentary with special affection My signature on the walls, broadcast on TVE in 1990. “It was quite an event, the newspapers talking about our pieces loaded with symbols, rebellious messages.”

Closed press kiosk with the memory of the graffiti artist Muelle in Plaza Juan Carlos Argüello, in the Campamento neighborhood (Madrid)
Closed press kiosk with the memory of the graffiti artist Muelle in Plaza Juan Carlos Argüello, in the Campamento neighborhood (Madrid)Kike Para / El Pais

Protected signature

His signature was protected in 1985 in the Patent and Trademark Registry to avoid plagiarism. The word “dock” became underlined with the dock symbol ending in an arrow and an R for registration. The artist not only wanted to avoid copying, he also did not want his work to be commercially exploited. Or at least, not without your consent. The Madrid City Council included it in an advertising poster, and Muelle denounced it. He received an offer from a mattress brand (five million pesetas at the time, enough to buy a house in Campamento, as his mother told him) and he rejected it. “Mom, what I do is priceless,” he replied.

Later, he participated in ARCO with the Estiarte gallery and one of his works was hung in the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. “It did not prosper because its contribution did not meet the minimum standards of an artistic work. The cultural value of his work on canvas or paper resides fundamentally in that it is a testimony of his graphic research process or personal growth or as a historical object ”, says Figueroa. His street style was known as the logo or flechero style and by then it was already used in the streets of New York, although his family has always defended that he was unaware of this movement. “His first steps can be considered independent, but he was aware that something was happening in New York, even if it was fragmentarily,” Figueroa says, on the contrary.

The ARTYCO company is in charge of restoring the Pier of the La Rioja School of Design.
The ARTYCO company is in charge of restoring the Pier of the La Rioja School of Design.

Elena Gayo

Now when Durán is going to auction 15 of his works, some signatures and other larger pieces, With a starting price of between 1,500 and 6,000 euros, the question arises as to whether Muelle would agree. His brother Fernando believes that it may be the first step for an exhibition to be organized or for Juan Carlos’s work to end up in a museum. Figueroa shows more reluctance: “It is a shame that the family has reached this extreme when it jealously guarded for so many years to avoid the disintegration or commercialization of its legacy. Possibly, there is an urgent need to justify this change in attitude or it has succumbed to the siren songs of people with a commercial vision who promise to promote the figure of Muelle in exchange for small sacrifices ”.

Muelle, signing on the canvases that covered La Cibeles for works, in 1989.
Muelle, signing on the canvases that covered La Cibeles for works, in 1989.

Muelle used to say: “The one that is famous is my brand, not my person.” This is what he told the prosecutor after being arrested in 1987 – it was not the only time he was arrested – for painting on the base of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, in Madrid. His claim, he said, was to make “a multinational graffiti company. It can be culturally focused, although it is actually a brand, and this can become what I call a charismatic story. ” Figueroa considers that Muelle aspired to “create a kind of Factory a la Warhol or Pop Shop a la Haring around his signature, but without being sold to third parties ”.

In 1992 he stopped painting. He considered that his work was exhausted and returned to music. At that time, their signatures, of which a few are preserved in Madrid, although they left the capital and reached Paris, were already a symbol that still survives today on Montera Street, from 1988, in the Café Populart, in the La Mancha bar, in the Círculo de Bellas Artes, in a shoe store in the Barceló Market and in rehearsal rooms on Calle Tablada. He died three years later. “It is very angry that someone like him, with so much talent and with his personality, left so young,” concludes Guzmán.

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