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November 25, 2009

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Portrait of an artist

A lightning-fast sketch for a passerby, an intricate Egyptian-motif backdrop that is packed up and put into storage, or a delicate painted tattoo on a long lithe limb -- Spanish artist Sevilla Antonio's creations are spread across China.

The Spanish artist admits he has kept only a tiny collection of his works, having sold or given away a lifetime of art during his travels around Europe and Asia.

A highly skilled sketch artist, he used to draw portraits in Xintiandi and says he has painted more than 8,000 Chinese faces in his travels around China.

He can do a portrait with a marker pen in less than three minutes and a detailed likeness in half an hour.

But for this journeyman, performer and artist, the creations don't stop at mere pen and paper.

From Western saloons to Buddhist temples, this multifaceted artist and sculptor has created the props and backdrops to countless events across China.

Sometimes created out of foam or plastics, the huge props were first used in nightclubs around Europe before Antonio moved to Asia in 2000, working in both China and Japan.

Antonio has worked for international brands such as car companies Mercedes-Benz and Buick, cosmetics giant Clinique, and a range of five-star hotels in China.

He has turned his talent for art into theater for events. On stage a spotlight shines on Antonio, who is clad entirely in black and wields a giant paintbrush. He summons a couple chosen at random from the audience and asks one of them to draw or scribble whatever line they wish on a large blackboard. Studying the other member of the couple, Antonio incorporates that line into a portrait of the person, which he draws live on stage in minutes.

"I have like a computer in my mind, I have many images floating around and I select one," he says.

"It might be a line in his girlfriend's dress or part of her hair or eyes, it is not a set-up, it is about imagination, memory, the subconscious and about not focusing and focusing. It is very difficult to explain how I do it."

Antonio says he always knew he wanted to be an artist and his first creation was as a child of four or five when the Spaniard was growing up in Belgium.

The family had watched "King Kong" on their black and white TV and Antonio sat up all night sculpting his own miniature giant ape from cardboard.

"It was my way of conquering my fears," he says of that first creative experience.

As a student he was more interested in painting and drawing than in academic pursuits and at art school he would quickly do the lesson's task in minutes.

"In some cases I could do things better than the teachers and they didn't like that much," he says.

Antonio went on to run an ice cream van, which was instantly recognizable because of its vibrantly painted exterior.

"All the kids knew me. We would put a little plastic toy like a kind of surprise in their ice cream. It was a great marketing tool," he says.

Antonio also made giant ice-cream cones that were more than 30 centimeters high and required two hands to hold.

But the ice cream dream melted with a rainy, cold summer and stiff competition and he returned to his art. One of his first designs was a Bram Stoker-style backdrop for a vampire-themed night in a Berlin nightclub.

The jobs kept coming in and a contact with a friend who was a street performer in Amsterdam landed him in Shanghai in 2000, working for newly opened French nightclub La Maison.

"Life is about love and passion and not about work -- work is one way to keep you alive," he says.

"In Shanghai working as an artist at a club I met beautiful dancers and performers from all around the world. I was blessed."

Antonio designed numerous props and backdrops during his five years at the club.

"They would change the scenery every two weeks -- it might be a Caribbean island one week or a gangster's hideout or a forest the next," he says.

Now operating out of his second-floor studio at the 696 artists' complex on Weihai Road, Antonio is frantically developing props and backdrops for his next show.

His studio is an eclectic collection of half-finished creations and miniature models of things he has designed.

A giant white foam Indian Buddha head rests in the corner as Antonio labors over his current project -- replica rifles that will form part of a dance performance.

While many of his works are displayed for an event and then packed up, he hopes one day to collect some of them for an exhibition in Shanghai.

"I would have things across China, in Italy, Germany and France, I can't remember all the things I have created and I don't know what has happened to them all," he says.

Antonio can be contacted at or at 1304-6666-410. Sevilla Antonio

Nationality: Spain

Age: 46

Profession: Artist


Description of self (three words):

Trusting, skillful, friendly.

Favorite place:

YY'S Bar on Nanchang Road.

Worst experience:

My hanging bag still out but I'm in the Metro, there were just too many people!

Strangest sight:

People showering on the street.

Motto for life:

Find real freedom, create outstanding things, see my family and friends happy.

How to improve Shanghai:The trucks and buses should smell like flowers.

Advice to newcomers:

Go to YY's Bar because there you can talk, drink, eat, smoke and meet me.


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