“I’m going to tell you a story—” this is how Colombian artist Godie Arboleda typically begins when asked a question that calls for an extensive response. Arboleda, his first name is a rearrangement of his given name, Diego, has been telling stories throughout his native Colombia for the last five years via his art: murals, posters, and illustrations. Fortunately, now his stories have been making their way beyond the borders, to the rest of Central and South America.
A graduate of the prestigious Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, in Medellin, Arboleda received his degree in graphic design. His artwork, which often depicts dissection, with innards displayed, are surrealistic renderings of a unique fusion of humans, animals, and nature. His linework —done entirely by hand and partially informed by the late 19th century Art Nouveau style — is geometrically precise, highlighting Arboleda’s attention to the details.
“When I was a child, my family gave me many illustrated books of stories and fables,” says Arboleda. “These always had animals with personalities. Or they were about people with some animal quality to them. That sparked my imagination. It’s not just, ‘This is a bird, and it’s awesome.’ It is, ‘This bird can tell me a story with its feathers.’ I started making compositions around that concept, making comparisons and analogies with a nature metaphor.”
Arboleda’s work is rich with symbolism. Feathers are one of those symbolic elements that appear frequently, such as in his acrylic, ink, and spray paint mural at Panama City’s Tantolo Hotel depicting a bird with a human face and arms that are bursting out of its chest. The arms are holding a beet and a plant growing out of the human’s mouth. Arboleda custom-created this mural for the hotel’s restaurant to signal to diners that they are part of the same ecosystem. The line that Arboleda attaches to this work is: “You are not what you eat. You are what you decide to eat.”
Other recurring motifs are eyes, which can pop out from anywhere: flowers, animals, sides of teacups. A recent acrylic and ink mural of a rooster, titled “A New Awakening,” features both elements: Arboleda’s attention to every minute detail is evident throughout the piece, from the animal feathers through its comb. The rooster sits atop a church-tower bell, embedded in flowers, their stigmas replaced with eyeballs.
His murals start as illustrations or designs on a small scale, but Arboleda’s visions don’t come to fruition until they are transported to a much larger size. It is in this form that he can hone the details and ultimately express himself. He might use projections for indoor walls and a grid for outdoor ones, or he might paint from his initial sketch. Arboleda’s painstaking effort as he puts into each tiny section of his murals has more in common with fine needlework, one that might eventually make you go blind.
One of Arboleda’s most recognized murals is at Selina Hotel’s La Candelaria location in Bogotá. Based on the quote from Harry Potter: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals,” the mural depicts a man’s head in profile, wearing a bear mask with a bird on his head enveloped in twigs and flowers and surrounded by buzzing bees. Nearly identical flowers with an eye in the center are at the opposing corners of the mural. For this, as with many of his murals, Arboleda uses the achurado technique, which uses thousands of lines to give the illusion of volume.
“When I first started to draw, I started to feel spirituality in environment and nature,” says Arboleda, who cites Dulk, Alegría del Prado, Bosch, Alexis Díaz, Luis Tamani, Showchicken, and MC Escher as artists he admires. “It’s easy for me to connect with that. Nature is inspiring.”