The Man Behind the Million Dollar Cartoon - Javier Calleja

The gavel strikes, sending a resounding clap across the Christie's auction hall. The final sum? HK8.89 million dollars (a whopping US$1.1 million). And this doesn't even include the additional buyer's premium for 21% of the hammer price. All for what? A childlike painting of a boy sitting down with the words "WAITING FOR A WHILE" scribbled on the side. Who painted this? And why is it worth this much?

From gymnast trainee to selling artwork worth millions, how did that happen?

Javier Calleja was born in Málaga along southern Spain's Costa de Sol in 1981. He previously trained in gymnastics for the Olympics before majoring in Fine Arts at 31. His body of artworks uses elements of cartoons, children's book illustrations, surrealism, and pop art while still touching on the relatable human condition and current affairs. Javier Calleja became known for his figurative works, often depicting large-eyed characters with exaggerated proportions.

Waiting for a While, Javier Calleja, 2019 (Credit:

His work has been exhibited around the world, including Hong Kong, Greece, Japan, Spain, Rome and London, and at many museums and art fairs, including ARCO Madrid, Art Basel Hong Kong, ZONAMACO, and Art Brussels. His pieces often auction off for three to seven times the high estimates, and public interest has quadrupled and quintupled year over year since 2017. In March 2021, Calleja's secondary market sales reached a personal record when his 2019 painting Waiting for a While was auctioned at Christie's for HK$8.89 million (US$1.1 million).

A huge statue of Mr Günter outside the Parco Art Museum in Tokyo greeting visitors to the Mr Günter - The Cat Show exhibition. (Credit:

Beyond The Canvas

Another recurring character in Calleja's work is Mr Günter, a nod to his real-life cat Günter Gambita. It became the focal point of his solo sculptural exhibition Mr Günter - The Cat Show, which ran in Tokyo, Vancouver and Málaga. Mr Günter accompanies visitors throughout the space, interacting with various sections mirroring the exploration of inquisitive art lovers.

How many Mr Günters can you find? (Credit:

Calleja's work is not bound to the canvas or sculpture, as evidenced by his collaborative works with major brands. Together with fashion house Loewe, his work is brought to clothing, bags, and accessories. He has also worked with Medicom Toy to produce limited edition Bearbricks, and with architects to design building facades, further proving the adaptability of his design ethos and language.

Calleja is obsessed with eyes. He says that even if other parts are flat and unrealistic, well-depicted eyes have a magical ability to draw people in. He paints characters who are at the age where boys and girls are undifferentiated because that was the happiest part of his life. People are willing to pay so much for his artwork due to his ability to infuse emotions and spirit into the exaggerated eyes of his subjects and to play with the contradictions of innocence and the human experience.

Material Experimentation


All this culminates with a collaboration with Lladró and their Art Editions project - You Choose One. This collection consists of 25 unique unrepeatable variants of the sculpture Boy, Angel Cat and Devil Cat created in stunning glossy porcelain finished with glass eyes. The sculptures represent the constant decision-making in life, influenced by both good and bad forces. This duality is something we are all familiar with, akin to the philosophy of Yin and Yang. Each variant has specific colour combinations picked by Calleja and comes in uniquely decorated packaging, giving each set a unique ownership experience.

25 unique colourways with equally unique packaging and documentation in the exclusive Lladró Art Editions You Choose One.

The follow-up to that is You Choose One - 150, a limited edition run of Boy, Angel Cat, and Devil Cat. These will not be sold in-store or online and are only offered to select Lladró customers.

The exclusive You Choose One - 150, offerred only to discerning Lladró and art fans.

Contact us to express your interest in Javier Calleja's You Choose One and future Art Editions projects @