Now, after some deliberation, city officials in Santa Pola have backed the transformation of the otherwise all-black icon. But they note that the Osborne company has the last word as to whether the bull is repainted or not, as it has image rights over what used to be a roadside billboard advertising brandy, but has since become a popular symbol of Spain.
The Sam3 bull in Santa Pola: "The monster of war was portrayed in 1937 [by Picasso] and Guernica is only one of its names, it likes to prey on the innocent and unarmed. Bullfighting is for cowards. Respect to Picasso"
“Guernica is war and all that it implies: horror, abuse, devastation, death, victims, spectacle,” explains Sam3, who has collaborated with the British urban artist Banksy, and whose art can be seen around the world.
Sam3 relates all these concepts to bullfighting, a tradition he criticizes, though he appreciates the iconic nature of the Osborne bull. It is, he says, a symbol, and it makes a useful canvas.
In fact, the street artist has a very particular take on the Osborne bull. “It is a gigantic monster akin to Don Quixote’s windmills,” he says. “It watches us closely, but also turns its back on us. It represents something very irrational and characterizes the spirit of the Mediterranean people.”
“Can we class art as vandalism?” muses Mercedes Landa, who is in charge of tourism at this popular summer resort. “When I look at the bull now, I see art, but also a cry for freedom and a cry against war. Everyone in Santa Pola is talking about our very own Guernica, though it’s not the municipality’s decision whether or not the bull should go back to black. That is a decision for the Osborne group, as they are the ones who pay for its maintenance. Anyway,” she adds, “we're going to send a letter to the company to see if there is a chance of keeping it.”
According to Landa, the bull has had its ups and downs in this particular part of Spain. “Once his testicles were yanked off,” she explains. “And not long ago, there was a storm that toppled it. It has also been painted several times before.”
One of the occasions Landa is referring to was in 2009, when Sam3 superimposed a painting of a lean heifer on the bull as an allusion to the economic crisis. On that occasion, the town hall did want the painting scrubbed off. “Although the message was opportune, it ridiculed the figure of the bull,” Landa says.
The Guernica bull carries with it an implicit anti-bullfighting message, which appears to be acceptable to the town hall. “It has become the most original Osborne bull in Spain,” says Landa, who has clocked its tourism potential. “Given the artist’s fame and the controversy surrounding it, the best thing would be to tell people a bit about Sam3. It has already attracted quite a few visitors wanting to be have their photograph taken with it.”
There is also an Osborne bull in the Madrid region that bears the Sam3 signature. This one has a skeleton painted on it, in another reference to the economic and social crisis in Spain.
When queried about the Guernica reference on the Santa Pola bull and the town hall’s request to keep it, an Osborne spokesman told EL PAÍS that “the Osborne group is evaluating how to proceed to restore and recover the integrity of the bull located close to the Salinas Natural Park in Santa Pola.”
English version by Heather Galloway.