Canary Islands street art scene: A blend of tradition and modern expression

The Canary Islands are a tourist archipelago. Many visit to spend their days bathing under the sun, dipping into the cool waters swayed by the Atlantic Ocean tides, and refreshing their throats with agreeably priced beer. But there’s much more hidden under the surface of these enchanting, fortunate islands, and today, we’re uncovering one of its artistic gems.  

Street Art in the Canary Islands

Matías Mata (Sabotaje al Montaje) is a street art artist born and raised in the Canary Islands. He was born in Lanzarote, like César Manrique, and today, he’s a well-known artist who has sprayed his art throughout the streets of the Canary Islands and beyond, e.g. Spanish peninsula, Senegal, Argentina, Jordan, Norway, Italy, England, France, Colombia and the USA. He founded his work on giving visibility to social and environmental issues through everyday life moments and current representation. 

His art’s most transgressive aspect is a fusion of design and abstraction, in which he narrates sequences of his life and what surrounds him, and colour is the protagonist, a constant in all his works. 

Without further ado, Sabotaje al Montaje.

Street art - Project: Empapados de Bientratar, City Hall Arafo Tenerife 2024

Can you tell us about your beginnings and how you evolved to reach your current status?  

Well, currently, I sign as Sabotaje al Montaje, but in the early 90s and late 80s, I signed as WIP, which was my signature in the neighbourhood of Escaleritas. Everything stems a bit from skating, which I used to practise. 

We lived in the streets, and that’s when I began to absorb information about the world of hip-hop culture and graffiti. And from that moment on, well, I got hooked. I’ve had many stages in these 31 years of my career. 

The early days were more about pure graffiti. As the years went by, in the late 90s, my interest in other artistic languages, murals, and interventions in public space flourished, always in the public space environment and ephemeral art. This natural evolution led me to create bigger murals, almost always depicting the social issues surrounding me in the neighbourhoods, and I also acknowledged environmental problems. 

But, well, it has always been an artistic activism attitude. Let’s resume it in this way. Hence, comes Sabotaje al Montaje—to appropriate public spaces by the people and not just the artists. I have been learning little by little because I have been very self-taught in this graffiti thing and mural. 

I’ve also had my parallel studies. I did advertising and graphic design, then a Fine Arts degree, but these were focused on learning other artistic languages more than urban art, which was what I learned both at night and during the day. And nowadays, well, I keep learning using the large format. That’s a brief explanation of my artistic trajectory.

What are you currently working on?

Well, now I’m preparing a project. I already have the idea. I’m maturing it for a festival in Málaga, Salobreña. It’s the first edition of an urban art festival in this town. They invite national and international artists, e.g. Latin America, and I’m working on the idea of that project right now.

Why the name Sabotaje al Montaje?

Well, it stems from a project I did in 2000 in the neighbourhood of Añaza in Tenerife, named Jardines Prefabricados. It was a social participation project where the neighbours decided what to paint and how, and the artist became the tool. 

In that case, I was their tool, allowing them to do things as they wanted and what they wanted, not what the artist or the institutions wanted. 

So the neighbours took ownership of public spaces and painted things like a sewer, a zebra crossing, a bit of everything, but all in their way. And that was the language of that sabotage, going out into the streets and changing our living setup through painting and art.

Street art - Homage to Andresito for La AAVV el Pescador San Andrés, Tenerife, 2021

We’ve succinctly introduced your work, but how would you describe it?

Well, from a somewhat ironic perspective or reflecting the everyday things of society, such as how brutal we are sometimes, and a bit of the social issues that constantly surround me. 

So what I try to express, sometimes with faster actions, interventions that are more “illegal”. And then I try to leave a bit of that footprint with the murals, right? 

I have always expressed social activism in my murals by fighting for what surrounds us and for coherent things. In my work, I highlight primary sectors like agriculture and microplastics, and years ago, I handled projects on neighbourhood social issues.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I capture moments from my life and surroundings when I work with my photographs. I take photos, and then I create my mural scenery. But it’s more about documenting myself. In other cases, whether it’s more specific things or concepts from historical archives or stuff like that, I usually work with my phone or camera. I take photos of those everyday moments that I can then give meaning to, reinvest them, and generate a discourse.

Street Art - Aislamiento digital (Digital isolation)

Museo Seisdedoce Los Realejos, Tenerife, 2020

Do you see a difference in how people perceive street art in the Canary Islands and abroad?

Well, sometimes information arrives a little later. Here, education and respect for this ephemeral art have progressed slower than in other places. There are muralists and murals all over the Islands, and they are growing and will continue to grow. So that’s good because a place that represents its culture in murals or with artistic themes is a more prosperous society in all senses, and in this aspect, yes, it has been slower. Nowadays, through social media, people can educate themselves faster and understand this art differently, with other perspectives reflected elsewhere, but also here, but with a different character.

Who was your mentor, if any?

I didn’t have that. I went out to paint alone, without knowing what world I was getting into, and then I learned from all my colleagues over all these years of painting. And asking each other questions and seeking solutions. But it was more self-taught‌.

What do you like most when you work on a project? The before, the actual work, the after… or the whole process … 

I think I stick with the whole process from start to finish. It changes when I’m more motivated. I mean, there are good days and bad days, but since I do what excites me the most, well‌, all stages of the mural have their little reward, right? Or learning. 

And like I said, I keep learning. After 31 years, I’m still learning about large formats and painting so well that it makes a point that every time I paint, it’s like I’m doing it for the last time. Thus, I keep enjoying it; I keep enjoying it.

How do you see the Canary Islands artists’ future?

Well, we’ve always had significant issues being in the islands. And now, as I told you, social media and the internet help open a window to other worlds. Let’s say to different spaces, but little by little, it’s becoming more professional, I believe. 

In many aspects, there are major museums and great artists from many disciplines in urban art. So it’s growing to a point where I hope society adapts to these artistic concerns of young people and not-so-young, and it represents a bit of the life we practically live. It won’t be easy, but we’re all contributing to making it a job structure someday. And that we can offer everyone who comes to see us on the Islands.


Festival 23700, Linares, Jaén, 2021

Can you recommend Canary Islands artists we should look out for? 

Well, I always liked Nestor de la Torre. As a little boy, I used to go to the Museum Nestor de la Torre in Gran Canaria, and I think he’s one artist worth seeing, like many others. Lanzarote has César Manrique, Tenerife Óscar Domínguez and Gran Canaria Nestor de la Torre, Manolo Millares and Felo Monzón. 

There are many in all the decades. In all eras, I’ve learned to enjoy all the works, and I think there are also great women artists like Lola Massieu. Many great artists have surrounded me, and I’ve been able to enjoy the. Urban art of the Canary Islands and meet some. But in the world of urban art now, there are more and more, and that’s the beauty of it, right? That there’s a generational leap and that we continue to enjoy it.

I’m not one to put anyone on a pedestal. I believe there are many street artists on all the Islands. And well, in El Hierro and La Gomera, there are fewer, but in the other islands, there are artists dedicated to murals, and they are all good artists because, in art, I don’t think anyone is better than anyone else. There are different sensitivities or sensations that an artist may evoke in you. And I don’t have that pedestal for artists, honestly.

We have concluded our interview. We hope you enjoyed it, and we’d like to thank Sabotaje al Montaje for his time and insightful answers. We also hope that next time you visit the Canary Islands, you find the time to walk through its streets and enrich your cultural appetite with the urban street art you encounter. 

If you’d like to learn more about Sabotaje al Montaje, you can access his website here or follow him via his social media profiles — Facebook and Instagram.